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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.


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?”)


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.