My preaching assignment this past week was to share teaching on the text from Galatians 5:22-25, famously known as the Fruit of the Spirit. My particular focus was on the “Fruit” of patience. Let me say again: I. LOVE. TO. PREACH & TEACH. LOve It…absolutely LOVE IT!
So this weekend I shared my heart and God’s Word with my church family. I have included the audio of that sermon and teaching below. As always, I’d love to interact with your thoughts in the comments section or email me direct. God Bless!
1st Sunday of Advent (C) 2015
It begins; a new Church calendar year has started today. I have grown quite fond of this time through the years. It signifies many things to me: hope, newness and fresh starts, putting to rest hurts and failed expectations are a few of the more prominent things that are on my mind on this First Sunday of Advent in the year 2015.
This time of year brings to the front of my memory a couple of the most significant heartbreaking moments in my life when I lost my sister in a tragic automobile accident in 1992 and two years later in 1994, almost to the same date, I lost my grandfather also to tragic automobile accident. While the years have been merciful in healing the raw pain of those losses, the felt absence of these beautiful and dear souls in my life has never been healed. It is for this reason there is always a sense of somberness mixed with hopeful and hope-filled expectations infusing my soul as I begin again the retelling of the Gospel—the salvation of humanity in the coming of God in the flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
This morning, while sharing with a group, reading from Scripture (Lectionary text Psalm 25:1-5), I was captured by several words from the text; the words trust, truth, and hope were ringing like a clanging gong in my soul. As I sat reflecting and holding those words in silence, I listened for what the Spirit might bring to my memory about them… the thought of “confidence and security” seemed to emerge from the triad of trust, truth, and hope. I read through the text again.
This time as I read the text, additional details and clarity of understanding came into view. Considering my own somber memories mentioned earlier, and reflecting on the state of current events, both domestically and abroad, I was struck with a sense of dread and a feeling of helplessness in a world engulfed in chaos. Only a fool will deny the craziness that surrounds us. It seems no place is truly safe. Violence abounds at every compass direction, racial unrest seems as volatile as it has ever been in my lifetime—maybe in the history of this country, social inequality continues to divide our nation between the haves and the have-nots…and this, arguably, in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. Globally, there are wars and rumors of wars; terroristic acts and crimes against humanity continue to reveal themselves in each pressing of the daily news. Chaos, fear, dread, despair, and hopelessness are the main entrees of earth’s buffet in year 2015. Still, the words “confidence” and “security” were the words coming to my mind as I read through this Psalm 25:1-5 text. So, I read the passage again.
1 O Lord, I give my life to you.
2 I trust in you, my God!
Do not let me be disgraced,
or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.
3 No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,
but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.
4 Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.
5 Lead me by your truth and teach me,
for you are the God who saves me.
All day long I put my hope in you. (Psalm 25:1-5 NLT)
I continued with silent reflection, pondering these words amidst the other thoughts that were populating my mind. I considered the many temptations throughout any given day to allow myself to become consumed by the depressing state of the world I live in. I thought about all the hate-filled rhetoric that dominates the airwaves of the news media and the devices of social media. I was reminded how easy it is to forget that still, even in the midst of chaos and darkness, my salvation and my hope are in God alone. The Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Blessed Holy Spirit is my Agent of trust. Christ Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us, is Truth incarnate. This is my Hope and my Rescue from a world in chaos.
I feel that the Spirit of God was reminding me that darkness and chaos are real. The pains of my losses are real. The possibility of becoming consumed, overwhelmed, and ultimately defeated by the distractions and destruction of evil amongst us today is equally real. On the other hand, salvation and truth are real…a right path that leads out of the darkness and into the Light of Hope and the Presence of God is even more real than the threats of chaos and darkness. This is what Advent calls us to remember. Christ is coming. Christ has come. Christ will come again.
In the coming days, I will be told by forces distracting my world that I need to consume. I will be told my life is not satisfying or gratifying or fulfilling for a myriad of reasons. I will be told I should be afraid…I need to retreat, hide, defend, attack, hoard, and protect. I will be pushed and taunted, pulled and cajoled to enter into a race I cannot win, where even the leaders who run out front are still losers in the end.
The Spirit of God bids me, “Slow down and do not be afraid.” We are reminded in the Advent that the blessing of hope for which we wait is coming. God is reconciling all creation to himself. He speaks to chaos and tells it to come to order. It will happen and this is a truth that can be trusted. This is our hope: Christ is our Hope. I will reject the temptations to join in with fruitless fray of a world gone mad. I have been invited to travel a different path, a right path, a road to follow that delivers me to my God who saves me—he is Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.
The theme of Advent is waiting, waiting for God, waiting with sometimes rising impatience, deepening frustration, and frequent disappointment. We wait, we hope, we look. And in that attitude and perspective one finds the whole liturgical year’s forward drive and direction. “Small wonder then that at this time, the beginning of the Preparation, the Message of Announcement is so completely illuminating and wide-reaching. It signalizes no individual event; it marks no one day or hour; it describes no single trait or act; but centralizes in its words the Whole Story and carries it home to the waiting heart.”
“Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28). The Church begins the year by looking forward to the birth of her Beloved, the Word made flesh. As an anxious bride, she counts the days, preparing, longing, constantly anticipating the joy that will be hers when the time will be fulfilled and Emmanuel will indeed be God-with-us. But the Church gives voice not only to the expectant joy of a bride or of a mother at the impending birth of her child. Mother Church expresses her deep longing for the coming of Christ in glory at the end of the ages. It is not a fearful dread that the Church wishes to instill in her members when through the psalms and hymns and readings and prayers she calls on us to think about the Parousia, the final coming, but rather she points us to the goal of our efforts to keep awake and to watch: unending union with Jesus Christ. All our work and study and prayer and living has one purpose and meaning: to bring us and all humanity into the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So the central prayer of Advent is the one word, the concluding prayer of the Bible, Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus. (From Journey into the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year by Philip H. Pfatteicher)
Awake, O Sleeper © 05/25/2015
I am in one of two states,
God is speaking. Always.
His presence is evident;
His Voice is evident;
In all things—In all places,
If I fail to hear, If I fail to see,
I am asleep.
I want to have eyes that see
And ears that hear;
“Pay attention to how you listen…”
Am I awake?
Am I asleep?
I am awake,
Because I AM is awake within me.
For me, there is no silence;
For me, there is no blindness,
As either pertain to the Divine.
In the silence is God;
The Silence is not quiet;
The Silence is not lonely;
The Silence is nothing to fear.
In the silence is God.
This space is un-silence;
This Space is Mystery;
This Space is Divine.
The un-silence is peaceful;
The un-silence brings comfort;
The un-silent silence of God is never
Noisy, distracting, or confusing.
The un-silent silence is respite
And refuge; It is the place of God.
“Pay attention to how you hear…”
I listen; I hear.
I watch; I see.
I AM is here.
I am not asleep;
This sleeper has awakened.
I see the Divine; I see God.
I hear the Divine; I hear God.
I AM – in me;
I am – in Him.
…paying attention to how I listen and hear.
And the Perfect Double Play: a Pre-Pentecost Reflection
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my continuing maturity in the image and likeness of Christ over the past several months. A number of habits (both good and bad) have prompted these reflections and my overall sense has been that of dis-ease. A quick disclaimer is likely helpful, before I proceed with my thoughts. I am in a fruitful season of my Christian journey. There is much to celebrate and be thankful for. My gifts and experiences are being used in profitable, gratifying, and meaningful ways. Still, I am unsatisfied and unsettled. I don’t view this as a bad thing; it is uncomfortable, but not bad.
Discipline is an expression that for me, conjures quite a few word pictures and memories. On the one side, are many memories of corrective action being meted out in response and consequence to some of my poor choices. Conversely, I am reminded of times where discipline translated into practices experienced in the context of sports and military exercises.
The Testing Discipline of God
The past few days I’ve been actively reflecting on a passage of Scripture that has prompted this writing (Deuteronomy 8:1-6).
Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors.2 Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3 Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.4 For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell.5 Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good. 6 So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him.
At first glance, there is much here that causes me unrest. For instance, I want the favor of God. I want to flourish, living in the land of promise under God’s sworn faithfulness. I am not always so eager to consider whole-hearted faithfulness and obedience to all the commands of God as my prerequisite to life in the land of favor and abundance. Yes, I want favor, but I want it on my terms and not on the terms of God. I would like favor and promise, but I would also like to negotiate the degree of obedience I must be willing to give up in order to have it. Why can’t my entry to the land of favor and promise be contingent on my desire and best efforts (determined by me)? Shouldn’t I get credit for obedience simply on the basis of “I tried” or “I want to obey”?
Likewise, I do not like the idea that my life might be a continuous trial by fire to test and purify my character. “Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands.” Forty years of testing??? Are you kidding me???!! Why must every day be a test to prove my obedience; didn’t yesterday (assuming I was obedient yesterday) count for something? Oh…what’s that you’re saying, Lord? “My character doesn’t need proving to You, the tests are for my benefit to prove and reveal my character flaws to me.” Ouch.
Discipline and Repetition
I remember a class assignment from elementary school I used to despise. I would even go to extreme efforts to devise ways to circumnavigate the assignment or cheat my way through it. The efforts I would engage in would often be more work than the assignment itself; I suppose this confession reveals a something of my nature and character. The exercise was writing spelling words…over, and over, and over again. I hated it. It seemed pointless and physically painful to me that I would have to spell out words ten or more times a piece, especially when I could prove to spell them correctly after one or two attempts. It was worse that this exercise was sometimes administered in the context of correction or punishment for minor infractions of misbehavior. I might be told to stay in from recess for talking out of turn and made to write out my spelling words while the other kids played. Discipline. Repetition. Correction. Behavior modification…
Discipline can be found and practiced in and with acts of repetition. It (discipline) is often and possibly only learned through those repeated practices. Although I rebelled against most acts of repetition during my youthful years, I have learned the value of repetitive acts especially where they are related to behavioral changes, and specifically in the area of spiritual formation. For instance, the repetition of writing out my spelling words in elementary school is not wholly unlike the repeated and disciplined acts of faith I practice now that leads to a godly life. I have learned and I continue to learn that the body and the mind are both strengthened through “healthy” acts of repetition.
Echoed in the Letter to the Hebrews (chapters five and twelve) are central themes to the disciplined life. There is even the mention that Jesus, in obedience learned through suffering, was made perfect through his discipline. How much more then, do we need to learn discipline and obedience. Likewise, as Christ, our perfection comes through discipline, testing, purging, pruning, and repetition leading to our consummate maturity where we will lack nothing reflecting the nature and character of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16, Eph. 5:1, James 1:2-4, 12). Anything less than perfected maturity in the life of the Christ-follower is not an option. Discipleship is discipline to the perfected image of Christ in me and in you.
I get by with a little help from my friends…
It needs saying that I’m not promoting a canon of self-works. I cannot make myself perfect no matter how disciplined or how hard I might try…at least not perfect as it relates to the image and nature of Christ. The discipline and spiritual exercises I refer to assume the empowerment and partnership of God, the Holy Spirit, in every life of the practicing believer. It is impossible to produce Christ-like behavior on our own, but God has given us all we need to live a godly life even sharing with us His glory and the Divine nature (Romans 8:30, John 17:22, 2 Peter 1:3-4), and with His help and partnership we are able to pursue and live a Christ-perfected life. This is Good News. We are God’s dance partner, waltzing the perichoretic two-step in time with the Triune perfection of our God to the to the tune of perfected obedience and melody of Christian maturity.
As I pondered these things, another memory was wrestled from my past. I used to play baseball at a fairly competitive level. I cannot begin to count the hours of practice that we used to joyfully endure. I think, literally, hundreds, maybe thousands of ground balls and fly balls fielded and played out. One of the main plays we would practice from a defensive posture was the double-play. Ground ball after ground ball was fielded and fumbled for the sake of preparing for the eventuality of making the double-play out in a real game. It is impossible to know when the situation might occur or where the variables might line up for your team to make the double-play. You must be ready for every possible outcome. Practice, practice, practice and repetition helped to create a deep muscle memory of how to field the ball, determine the play, and make the following throws and catches that would ensure the success of the double-play. It was rare for anyone to witness the countless fumbles and foibles committed in practice and connect those trials and errors with the beautiful dance of completion and perfection that would happen on game night.
And we come back to where we began… This is the desert experience I think we might understand from the Deuteronomy Eight passage. It’s repetition. It’s testing. It’s faithfully showing up and trusting the outcome to participating with the persons of the Godhead. It’s all there. It’s not always fun. Discipline requires work and sacrifice, but there is a harvest of benefit and glory. Sometimes you jam a finger…sometimes a hard grounder to the chin, but those always seem worth it when you turn the perfect double-play with Jesus as your teammate.
This is something I think might be helpful for me to remember… Discipline often is, but should not always be associated with punitive correction. I think the better understanding of discipline could be associated with proactive conditioning, the kind that leads to healthy behavior and habits producing a fruitful and abundant lifestyle, the kind of life that Jesus came to offer us. Healthy spiritual practices + repetition = Abundant Life.
I’ve take a “less is more” approach to my Lenten Season this year. I am still active in my participation and devotion, but most of my devotional practice is quiet, still, and intimate. It has taken some getting used to and there is still some awkwardness I’m having to work through, as my normal practices are heavy on “do-practices” rather than “be practices,” especially during the season of Lent. I think it is working well overall despite my occasional feelings of awkwardness.
Today is the Third Sunday in Lent. My devotions the past few weeks have been powerful, intimate, and very clear. This morning as I was meditating and praying through my Scripture readings, an uprising of gratitude and praise bubbled up out of soul, over my lips, and spilled out onto the pages of my journal.
God, I am thankful for the truths you reveal to the hearts and minds of those who seek you. But why should I be surprised? It is something you promise and we see those promises delivered again, and again, and again. We see them delivered throughout Scripture, we see them delivered through the writings of your saints through the ages and we see them delivered in the verbal-audible confessions of our spiritual brothers and sisters today. Breathlessly amazing is what it is. Life-giving assurance is what it is. The power of God unto salvation is what it is.
Thank you and praise you, O Lord my God, for rescuing me and showing yourself to me. Thank you for moments of inspired clarity that bring into focus the mysteries of the universe that are the tapestry of your eternal kingdom. To you I ascribe all glory and honor as I tremble with delight to know that I am yours, truly and eternally yours.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, world without end. Amen.
I was gathered yesterday with my faith community. At one point during our worship, we were guided in prayer and I heard the words proclaimed, “In a world where nothing seems right…” And my heart and my mind were gripped in pause. Now, I should confess that I too have spoken those words and likely on more than one occasion, but this time my soul was arrested with these words ringing in my ears.
“Nothing seems right?”
The context of these words was in proclamation of a world disordered around us. It is true; all around us there are swaths of chaos, turbulent waves of discontent, poverty, famine, pestilence, pollution, dread, and dis-ease. All this is true, but even in the midst of this broad brushed generalization, can we say with certainty… should we say with certainty “nothing seems right?” I question if this is a true statement.
I think and believe there are many things, perhaps most things that are truly right. I’m afraid we miss the deep truth as a result of our blurry, self-absorbed, and shallow perspectives. When we view the world, the cosmos, and all of creation through the narrow experience of our own self-realized being, we inevitably see all things tarnished by our own frailty and brokenness. Does our brokenness though, translate to all things being broken? Does our inability to be what we were created to be translate to “nothing seems right?”
There are many things right; in fact, most things are right.
Rocks are right. Gravity is right. Osmosis is right. Photosynthesis is right. Stars, suns, planets, and galaxies are right. Plants, animals, insects, fish, and fowl, all express perfect being. They are all complete expressions of what they were created to be. Not one is outside of its origin as God intended. A rock rocks as a rock was created to rock. Birds bird as they were intended. And so on. None of these created entities are in rebellion to their created being. Counting all created things, only man rebels against his created essence. Because of this rebellion, nothing seems right…
I wonder…I contemplate the possibilities and consider, what if man submitted to the order of his creation—surrendered to the command to reflect his Creator—would it be possible for us to see and even realize how much is right? Amidst the chaos and dis-ease, might we see the hallelujahs sung by the waves, might we hear the crescendos of the rising and setting sun? Is it plausible that we might witness the incomprehensible Divinity that sustains each atom that binds this universe together? I think we might. I’m sure we can.
It was narcissistic coordinates that landed us on planet ME and self-centered perspective leads me to see the world through my own corrupt lens. Jesus Christ prescribes the course correction: “Pilot, adjust your coordinates 180° and set your course for Deny Self.” Herein we are privileged to take in scenery that assumes the likeness of its Creator and suddenly…everything seems and looks right.
25DEC2014—Christmas Year B
Incarnation—God in Flesh, God in Me: Christmas Day
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Lectionary – Christmas 1: Psalm 96 ◊ Isaiah 9:2-7 ◊ Titus 2:11-14 ◊ Luke 2:1-20 ◊
Christmas Collect: O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Contate Domino—1 Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. 2 Sing to the LORD and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day. 10 Tell it out among the nations: “The LORD is King!” 11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad. (Psalm 96)
Christ has come! The LORD is King!
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.
What a great and marvelous promise that comes to us through the words of the prophets, speaking as the oracles of God. These, the words of the prophets, are the words that strengthen and encourage us as we wait in patience…even in suffering… with hopeful, and joyful, expectation. James exhorts his listeners; “For examples of patience and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord (James 5:10). Let us look to the prophet Isaiah today, based upon the exhortation of James, to hear what the LORD might speak to us.
(Isaiah 8:20) Look to God’s instructions and teachings!
1 The time of darkness and despair will not go on forever… 2 The people who live in darkness will see a great light. 3 They will rejoice as people rejoice at the harvest. 4 For you will break the yoke of slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod. 6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders and he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:1-7).
What amazing hope-filled promises to look forward to from God through the words of Isaiah. The passionate commitment of our God is to “break the oppressor’s rod.” No more will the yoke of sin’s slavery be the burden of humanity! This is the promise! “Darkness and despair will not go on forever…”
700 years might seem like forever (the amount of time between Isaiah’s prophecies and the birth of Jesus), but the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s decree arrived in the form of God himself wrapped in the flesh of humanity. Light came. Darkness was dispelled. The rod of the oppressor was broken. The promise was real and the promise was realized; Luke’s gospel shares the account of the herald of his arrival.
The angel said; “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today… Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke2:10-20 NLT)
The One the world waited for since the time of Adam’s rebellion had come. The waiting was much longer than 700 years. The wait had been millennia. The estrangement of humanity from God had been too long. God himself condescended himself (Phil. 2:5-7), so he might re-breathe life into his most cherished creation (Gen. 2:7, John 20:21-22) to reconcile and reunify himself to them (John 17:20-24) as he had determined all along, before creation and time itself, that this creation, yes, humanity, would be the Tabernacle of His very Presence (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19, 2 Cor 6:16, John 14:16-17).
God has come. Incarnation. God in the flesh, and God in me.
The free reign of the oppressor is no more in the life of the believer. God can live fully in me as he did in Jesus when he walked amongst men (John 14:12, 2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT). This is the joy of what the day of Advent, His Coming, the Christmas Celebration entails. The Apostle Paul helps to shed “light” on the what the coming of Light means to us in his letter to Titus.
For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to god, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds (Titus 2:11-15).
We live as people who are filled with the presence and full-embodiment of Christ. Are we not filled with his Holy Spirit? Is not the Holy Spirit a person of the Triune Godhead? The Spirit of Christ lives in us and among us. What is the Spirit of Christ?
1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God.3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:1-5 NLT)
God has come. Incarnation. God in the flesh, and God in me.
It means something. Christmas. Incarnation means something. God came. God has come. There is a reason and there are lasting repercussions to his coming… both good and bad. For those who receive Him and his eternal, life-giving, Holy Spirit, breath… the repercussions are good and active even now as we wait for the eternal fulfillment of all God’s promises. We can live and expect to live fully into the atoning grace of Jesus Christ today. This is good news. This is great joy news! This is Glory to God in highest heaven. Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad. I know I am. Glad. And rejoicing. God has come. He was in the flesh and now is in me.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever…
My merciful God comes to meet me…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your Name; may thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil—for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, so it is now and so it shall ever be, world without end. Alleluia. Amen.
Leo the Great preached, “Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the incarnation. From the time when Christ came, the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, and speech of kindliness diffused. A heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth.”
“My merciful God has come to meet me…” This is Christmas. Christ has come. Christ lives in me. Christ will come again. Praise Him. Alleluia and Amen.
And now may the spirit which was in Jesus Christ be in me, enabling me to know God’s will and empowering me to do God’s will. Amen.
23DEC2014—4th Tuesday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Emmanuel, God in the Flesh–God with Us
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 66, 67 ◊ Isaiah 11:10-16 ◊ Revelation 20:11—21:8 ◊ Luke 1:5-25 ◊
December 23nd: O Emmanuel (Is. 7:14) : “O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.”
This week, with only two days remaining until Christmas, I will focus my reflections on what God “in the flesh” means to me. What does the little Hebrew baby born in a lowly manger two-thousand years ago really mean to my life? How does this reality translate to the life I live out daily? How does this translation of God in the flesh, living in me, create anticipation and expectancy for his coming again.
The fulfillment of a divine plan…from the eternal wisdom of God; this is Christmas. The most amazing thing to me about this mystery that I cannot fully comprehend is the desire of God to be in holy union with humanity. That’s the way it all began with the creation of humankind. The Holy Triune Eternal of Days wanted to share the incredible joy that is Divine Communal Love, and so They made man. However many thousands of years, that passed after Adam’s rebellion, the redemptive promise was realized in the birth of the Christ child, Jesus… Emmanuel; God with us. Thirty some odd years later the Christ child turned man would be put to death on a Roman cross and the redemption work of God would come to a climax when after three days the murdered Messiah would arise and emerge from the tomb that could not contain His Presence or Glory. In a short span of fifty days the mystery of divine union with Holy God would be experienced in a room of five hundred people and then witnessed by more than three thousand that same day. Mystery indeed…magnificent and marvelous!
These “Mysteries” of Christ are not merely called “Mysteries” because they are too deep for us to understand and are therefore proposed to us to be contemplated with silent and adoring faith. They are not just something you think about and look at. The term mysterium in Saint Paul has a dynamic sense. It is the fulfillment of a divine plan, springing forth from the eternal wisdom of God, producing its effect in time and, by virtue of this effect, elevating men from the level of time to that of eternity, from the human level to the divine. -Thomas Merton
The wonder of this mystery is that it isn’t only for a single night or day, but the reality of God’s gift is every day, all day, every minute…always with us and never entirely silent, until He comes again. Yep, this is Christmas. Emanuel. God is with us…with me… and the greatest of all mysteries? God is within me. Amen.
A Psalm and a Prayer
16 Come close and listen, all you who honor God; I will tell you what God has done for me: 17 My mouth cried out to him with praise on my tongue. 18 If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened. 19 But God definitely listened. He heard the sound of my prayer. 20 Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. (Psalm 66:16-20 CEB)
“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend on us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels. The great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide in us, Our Lord Emmanuel! Amen.” (O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillip Brooks)
21DEC2014—4th Sunday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Jesus the Rising Sun and Eternal Light
Scripture Reading: Lectionary Year B-Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 ♦ or Canticle 3 or 15 ♦ 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 ♦ Romans 16:25-27 ♦ Luke 1:26-38
December 21st: O Oriens (Is. 9:1): “O Rising Sun, you are the splendor of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
27 Gabriel said to her, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” 28 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean… 30 “Don’t be afraid” the angel told her. 35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…For nothing is impossible with God.” 38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1: 28-30, 35, 38)
Several things “pop” out to me in the passage of text above. First, the angel Gabriel assures Mary that she is favored and the Lord is with her. Oddly enough, Scripture says this “confused and disturbed” Mary; other versions say the encounter left her “greatly troubled.” I think the end result is the same in either case… meeting with an angel and hearing a direct message from God sorta freaked the teenage girl out. I don’t think we are different in how we respond to God’s word. I think hearing from God in almost any capacity kind of freaks us out. I have realized most people like to keep God at an arm’s distance. In the midst of Mary’s discomfort, and ours too, God’s ambassador says do not be afraid; “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow all” And then, Mary takes this all in and proclaims; “I am the Lord’s Servant. May everything you have said about me come true.
The portions of the text that are bolded above are of particular interest to me as thoughts began to stir while I was reading them. It is interesting to me first, the description of the angel, Gabriel’s, appearance and message. He comes, greeting and praising Mary; “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” I wonder how this really went down; I mean, from the things I could find to learn about the angel Gabriel (particularly Jewish and Catholic literature) it would be an intimidating meeting. Gabriel is said to stand in the presence of God and is believed to be a messenger-warrior-avenging-protector angel, fearsome and imposing in stature I am sure. He comes to visit a young teenage girl. The Bible records this event as “greatly troubling” to Mary; other versions relate her response being “confused and disturbed.” I can only imagine or wonder how I would have reacted… something tells me I might be searching for a change of clothes.
In the midst of this supernatural meeting, an incredible proclamation is made to Mary declaring her as “favored by God.” Perhaps equally and maybe more important is the announcement Gabriel makes when he tells Mary, “The Lord is with you!” These two pieces of information would be important promises for the young girl as she soon finds out what God has planned for her. Following the details and Gabriel’s explanation to Mary that she would carry the Christ child, he tells her, “Don’t be afraid.” Gabriel continues to respond to Mary’s “confused and disturbed” state by telling her “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
Wonder! God is come among humanity; he who cannot be contained is contained in a womb; the timeless enters time, and great mystery: his conception is without seed, his emptying past telling! So great is this mystery! For God empties himself, takes flesh and is fashioned as a creature, when the angel tells the pure Virgin of her conception: “Rejoice, you who are full of grace; the Lord who has great mercy is with you!” Stichera of Annunciation
This story is incredible on so many levels. It seems I learn something new each time I read it, but this time I just started to consider what this encounter meant to me on a practical and daily living perspective. Yes, we’re talking about the birth of our Savior and I get that, but I think some of these points are meant for each of us too… not just applied to Mary and Gabriel’s exchange.
The Bible teaches us from cover to cover that each of us is favored by God. I think we overlook that nugget of truth sometime. Additionally, if we are “in Christ” …HE is in us and thus, the LORD is with us. Jesus said he would never leave us alone and the gift of the Holy Spirit living-indwelling the heart of believing followers ensures this is the case. The Lord is with us. How easy it is for this divine truth to escape us in our day-to-day business of living. We are so quickly caught up in the urgency of each day we forget how highly favored we are in the eyes of our God and fail to remember the very Guiding Presence of the Triune God is within our very soul …always there, always faithful, always with a word of wisdom when we need it. We are never alone and God is never entirely silent. Ever. Remembering these promises helps us in times of dire need or times of doubt to never be afraid. God is with us; He holds us in the palm of his hand and will never let us fail or be plucked from His grasp (Romans 8:38). We are favored, God is with us, and we have no reason to fear. Even knowing these things it is sometimes hard to hold the faith. In the midst of uncertainty and gazing into the face of my own insecurities and frailty, sometimes my faith wavers… not in God, but in me. This is why it is all the more important to commit this promise to memory: The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. That’s right; when I can’t, He can… and will. Not only does the Holy Spirit dwell within me and provide me with the comfort and guidance I need from day to day, but the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon me to assist in the needs I have when I need that strength. When I feel I have done all I can possibly do and I am close to failing… I stand firm and allow the power of the Most High to overshadow me.
What an incredibly affirming and encouraging word. Praise the Lord who Saves and provides us with the gift of Himself to dwell in us, guide us, comfort us, strengthen us, give us wisdom… Praise Him!
I think the last thing I glean from this encounter is the attitude of Mary… even in her state of “doubt, troubled heart, confusion, and being disturbed.” She loved and trusted God. She loved and trusted God to such a degree she wholeheartedly agreed to a plan that would lead her to possible stoning, rejection by friends and family, put her in harm’s way up to even facing death at multiple points in her life, disgrace, distress, and so much more that is not good. The cost to become the woman God desired and fulfill the plan God had for her would be high, but she said, “may it be as you say to your servant.” I believe it is the surrendered heart of Mary that paved the way for all the promises that God made to her through the words of Gabriel. I can only imagine and wonder what God has in store for those of us willing to full submit and surrender our hearts to Him in the same way as Mary.
A Psalm and a Prayer
1 I will sing of the Lord‘s loyal love forever. I will proclaim your faithfulness with my own mouth from one generation to the next. 2 That’s why I say, “Your loyal love is rightly built—forever! You establish your faithfulness in heaven.” 3 You said, “I made a covenant with my chosen one; I promised my servant David: 4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever; I will build up your throne from one generation to the next.'” (Psalm 89:1-4 CEB)
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming,, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reighns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
18DEC2014—3rd Thursday ADVENT Year B
Advent: O Adonai
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 50, 59, 60 ◊ Isaiah 9:18—10-4 ◊ 2 Peter 2:10b-16 ◊ Matt. 3:1-12
O Adonai (Is. 11:4-5; 33:22): “O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.”
I observe the circumstances of life around me, looking at the timeline of life and drama that is occurring right now in the daily living of people who have surrendered their will to following the Christ who is their savior. While God the Holy Spirit is our Comforter and gives us Peace in the midst of our journey, sometimes the journey is exceedingly difficult. Jesus said this would be so; “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). Pursuing the Christ and His Cross requires grit, passion, singleness of heart, and faith in the big picture (Luke 14:25-35). There is nothing easy about being wholly committed to Jesus.
Similarly, there is nothing passive about surrendering or living wholly surrendered to the LORD, Jesus Christ. On the contrary… it requires more action, faith, will, tenacity, endurance, courage, and risk-taking than any venture or activity I have ever been part of. History and the experiences of many other countless millions of Christians will also testify to this reality. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Just as this was true with Mary, Jesus promised it would be true with us; “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth… You know him because he lives with you now and later will be in you. I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you” (John 14:15-18).
We are not alone and there is no such thing as a weak, wall-flower Christian. The ONE who opened His mouth and the universe came out…now lives in me. Weak? Passive? I think not. This is what surrendered to Christ is. As Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord, may it be unto me as He says.” This is not only our surrender, but it is our battle cry. We know the trials of our faith will prove our genuineness (1 Peter 1:6-9) and lead us to the eternally rich life with Christ each follower so desperately desires.
Behold, I am the servant of the Most High God. May it be done to me according to your word and your will. Amen. – Let everything within you watch and wait, for the Lord our God draws near. Alleluia.
A Psalm and a Prayer:
1 The Lord, the Mighty One, is God, and he has spoken; he has summoned all humanity from where the sun rises to where it sets. 2 From Mount Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines in glorious radiance. 3 Our God approaches, and he is not silent. Fire devours everything in his way, and a great storm rages around him. (Psalm 50:1-3 NLT)
He is the perfection of beauty, shining in glorious radiance. God approaches…and he is not silent; a storm rages around him and fire devours everything in his way. There is something calming and terrifying all at once in these words. I think I will continue to meditate upon them.
Blessed be you, Lord God of Israel, for you have looked favorably on your people and redeemed them; you have raised up a mighty Savior for us, just as you spoke through your holy prophets of old. O God of peace, sanctify me entirely; may you keep my spirit, soul and body sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because you have called me and you are faithful, I believe you will do this.
Pour into us now, O most loving One, the gift of eternal grace, so that, by the misfortunes of new deception, old error may not destroy us. O God, the Father of all humankind, you bid us listen to your Son, the well-beloved. Nourish our hearts on your word, purify the eyes of our mind, and fill us with joy at the vision of your glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God forever and ever. Amen.