IN JUST A FEW SHORT DAYS

It is so hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Christmas day is only in a few short days from now.  Time never stands still – not even for one second.  Sometimes it all feels so surreal – I know for me, it feels like just the other day my children were all little and now they are all grown up.  And so…I’ve been thinking about time – how quickly it flies by…

It’s now been over 2000 years since the birth of our Lord Jesus.  Time didn’t stop then and it doesn’t stop now.  I can hardly imagine how surreal it must have been for Mary to have the angel Gabriel come and tell her that she will have a beautiful baby boy – While we have heard this text and this story a hundred times, I am still caught in the Angel’s words:

“Greetings Favored one…Do not be afraid.”

First of all, I would be scared to death if an angel came and spoke to me.  I would for sure think that I had probably died.  But, then to be told that I have found FAVOR with God would be overwhelming.  FAVOR – meaning “chosen”, or “Preferred” – It’s like being a “Favorite or a ‘teacher’s pet.’”

Would it not be hard to see yourself as something really special?  It would not be difficult to just put yourself up on a pedestal?

But, Mary doesn’t.  In fact, she never makes it about her.  When told she will have a child, she never considers and hesitates how this is going to mess up her life and ruin all her plans.

I’m sure Mary had big plans for marrying Joseph – Where would they live, how many children they might have together…

She never took into consideration that she couldn’t just go run out and tell everyone her wonderful and joyous news of having a child –

She never took into consideration that Joseph may not even marry her now – that he will never believe her story.  Not to mention that because she was a woman who lived in the margins of society, she could have been stoned to death.

She never took into consideration that her life would never be a normal life.

But instead, without hesitation, she says “Yes” Let it be so.

I have wondered what it must have been like to raise the Lord – to watch him grow up…to know he is your Son, but that ultimately he is God.  And, then thinking that your Son was going to be a King – the One who was going to turn everything upside down – the poor would become wealthy, there would be justice for all people…her son had the power to change the world…

And. So Jesus does…however, it’s not the way people thought it would like.  Our minds can hardly comprehend what Jesus did and is doing!

Instead, she is a mother who watches her son be brutally killed, beaten, and hang on a cross .

That day the angel came…she never took into consideration what she would experience..the brutality and hate her son would face.

The angel proclaims, “Greetings Favored one…Do not be afraid.’

There was a little girl, who would not want to open her gifts on Christmas eve.  The family was always so perplexed when every Christmas, she would look at her gifts, sit and stare, and then quietly get up and walk to her room.  Her parents thought that she just didn’t want the gifts they had picked out for her.  This went on for a few years.

Finally, one Christmas, her grandmother was visiting.  This little girl loved her grandmother so much.  They were always very close.  So, they were sitting on the sofa together – and with her grandmother’s arm wrapped warmly around the little girl, she asked her granddaughter:

“Tell me, why is it that you never want to open your Christmas presents on Christmas?”

The little girl responded:  Grandmother, I have been told that Christmas presents are only for those who are good – I am not good all the time.  I can’t take the presents. Her grandmother drew her beautiful granddaughter even closer, and said:

“You see, sweet one, those presents under the tree represent LOVE.  And, we love you even when you have done wrong.  We love you no matter what.”

The little girl then left her grandmother’s arms to pick up the doll that sat under the tree.

The angel proclaims, “Greetings Favored one…Do not be afraid.”

You see, God did not just find favor with Mary.  God finds favor with each one of us.  Jesus, our Lord and Savior is LOVE.  We know that because of what Christ has done for us!  We know Jesus is love because He loves us even when we have done wrong.  He loves us no matter what.

JESUS IS LOVE!

He is love because we make mistakes and He loves us especially when we don’t deserve it.  But yet, still God’s gift of the Christ’s presence is here!  God is here with us no matter what we have done wrong.  God forgives us because of Christ and his death on the cross.

I cannot help but to wonder if Mary took into consideration the wonderful gift she gave the world when she said, “Yes.”

Christmas day will be here in just a few short days.  It is a day of joy, excitement, and happiness.  It is a day of rest, reflection, and an opportunity to be with family.

Time is quickly passing.  It didn’t stop 2000 years ago and it isn’t going to stop now.

But, the angel still proclaims, “Greetings Favored One.  Do not be afraid.”

This is our message this Christmas season as we remember and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior.  It is God’s gift to you:

You are FAVORED in the Lord’s eyes.  His gift to you is the presence of a God who is always with you.  Whatever you have done wrong, no matter how much you are hurting, and especially in your suffering.  God sends His Son to draw you closer to the God who loves you so much.

Do not be afraid.

ADVENT – WEEK THREE

I will never forget the day when our oldest son came to Bob and me and announced that he was going to join the army.  We were horrified because of the wars going on both in Iraq and Afghanistan…You also have to understand that Robert has never been athletic – he was a nerd who loved to program computers and read books.  So, it was difficult for me to picture him in the Army.

It was a very difficult day when I drove him to the Army office to drop him off where they would get him to his next destination where he would have his basic training.

He was good about writing to us.  In one letter, he wrote how much he loved the boots and how cool they were.  All I could think about is that if it was the boots you wanted, maybe I could have found a way to get you the boots!

Just before he was deployed to Afghanistan, he came home for a few days of leave.  He asked if he could have a watch.  The watch he wanted had compass.   When asked why he wanted a watch with a compass, he said, “Well, you never know it could come in handy if I were to get lost.”  I agreed, but thought to myself, “I pray that you always find your way back home.”

We bought the watch.

Compasses are really cool instruments in the way that no matter how you set them down, it will always point to a true north.  In today’s world, we rarely use compasses anymore – but tend to rely on our GPS to guide us in the direction we need to go.  In either case, the TRUE NORTH is the direction we always want to go –

We have all heard about John the Baptist – the one who lives in the wilderness, eats wild locusts and honey, never cuts his hair, and whose mission was to “Prepare the Way of the Lord.”  “The Way” – a path or a road that led to Jesus Christ – NO DOUBT John was the TRUE NORTH – a Compass or a GPS that pointed the direction for others to find CHRIST!

Today, in John’s Gospel today, the writer introduces John the Baptist as he is being questioned by the religious government of that day.

The Jews, Priests, and Levites ask John:  Who are you?

John responds:

  • I am not the Messiah
  • I am not Elijah
  • I am not the Prophet

And, then if totally confused, they ask him, “Then who in the world are you?”  John responds:

  • I am a Voice for the Lord
  • I am a Baptizer in Water
  • And, I am Unworthy to Untie His sandals

John Claims:

He is a WITNESS that TESTIFIES to the LIGHT!  He is a WITNESS that TESTIFIES to JESUS!  His mission through this testimony is that:  ALL MIGHT BELIEVE THROUGH HIM!

This is a different twist from the other gospels.

…It begs the question for me:

Who am I?  What are my “I ams?”  What are my “I am nots?”

Does my COMPASS point a TRUE NORTH that will lead others to Christ?

If I were asked by the religious officials, “WHO ARE YOU?”  What would be my response?

What if you were asked, “Who are you?”  What are your “I am…”  What are your “I am nots?”

Because here is the thing….Everyone’s life bears witness to something or someone.  If our mission in life is to testify to the Light – to our Lord and Savior – I wonder if the questions should be considered:

How should we think about and speak of ourselves in relation to Jesus?  How should we think about and speak of Jesus himself?

I have a friend that says that in order to become a deacon in her church, you must sign a document stating all of the things you are not allowed to do or not have ever done or will do – specifically like alcohol use, dancing, etc..

And, the congregation is asked that if you know anything negatively about that person, they should come forward and reveal the truths about that person before they are signed in as a deacon.

I asked her what happens when that person messes up and cannot live up to the document?  She said they are asked to step down and leave the church.

I responded, “I would never sign that document.  Not in a million years.”

As a pastor, I am asked to be held above reproach at all times. I said, “I will, with the help of God!”  Have there been times that I have failed?  I’m pretty sure I have.   As Christians, have there been times that we have failed?  I’m pretty sure that we have.

WHO AM I?  I am a Sinner.  I am unworthy to untie the sandals of the One who came to Save me!

How should we think about and speak of ourselves in relation to Jesus?  I am a sinner!

It is JESUS CHRIST who redeems me!   OUR COMPASS or our INNER GPS is our HEARTS that recognizes that it is only Christ that can save us!   It is our belief in the ONE who was sent to us – to live among us – to be a part of our lives – to give us hope in our eternal life-

OUR ACTION of REPENTANCE DRIVES us to CHRIST!  WHEN we can recognize that we ARE SINNERS – THE PATH to CHRIST is being paved…

Our inner moral compass begins to point to a true North – testifying to the LIGHT that it is only Jesus Christ who redeems us and makes us right and whole!  How should we think about and speak of Jesus himself?

He is the Messiah!  He is the only ONE that can save us! He is the Light of the World!

But, Who am I?   I am a sinner.  I am a sinner seeking redemption and hope for a better way of life.  I am a believer in Jesus Christ who saves me and forgives me.

Our son did make it home from Afghanistan – twice. I never have asked him if he ever needed his compass that was on his watch.  It’s too hard of a question for me. But, he has told me that it was God that kept him safe.  That through Him and in Him, he believed that he had nothing to fear.  When I asked him, “Why the Army?”  He said, “I want to serve my country.  I feel called to serve.  In this way, I serve the Lord – the one who loves me, forgives me, and gives me a hope of eternal life.

Everyone’s life bears witness to something or someone.

 Who Are YOU?

 How do you think about and speak of yourself in relation to Jesus?

How do you think about and speak of Jesus?

Does your life of repentance pave the way for others to come to Christ?

Is it not who we are in relation to our Lord and Savior a testimony to our TRUE NORTH?

Amen.

DAY ELEVEN of ADVENT

Humility is hard to come by these days.  We all want to take credit for the good things that happen in our lives – our hard work deserves a raise in our pay; or I am the one who made the company successful…We tend to forget that if it were not for God’s blessings, we would not be who we are in the first place.  Giving God the glory and the credit is difficult.

In Luke 1:5-17, Zechariah and Elizabeth had tried for years to have a child.  But, on this special day, it is Zechariah’s turn to enter the Temple.  The people wait outside praying as he enters.  The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah and tells him that Elizabeth will have a son.  Zechariah doesn’t believe him and wants proof that this will happen.  Because of his non-believe, the angel mutes him – Zechariah is unable to speak.

There could be a lot of reasons as to why the angel mutes Zechariah.  However, I tend to believe that poor Zechariah just could not wrap his head around what God could actually do – Therefore, the angel proves to Zechariah that God can make him mute.  I can’t help but to think this is the sign that he receives.  But, I think the same is with us.  Our minds cannot fathom and grasp what God can do – through us, in us, and with us!  It’s easier for us to take the credit.  It’s difficult to take a step back and give God thanks and praise for the blessings we have been given.  Here is the thing…God can do so much more than we can ever dream of doing.  Let God dream your dreams!  The impossible is possible! Believing that God can do the impossible could be the first step in preparing for the coming of our Lord Jesus!

DAY TEN of ADVENT

I was asked, “What is the hardest thing about doing ministry for you?”  I responded, “It is so hard for me to understand why others are not as excited as I am!” Ever since I was a small child, I had the knack of over-extending myself.  I just want to do everything!  I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity.  In the case of doing ministry, I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to see Jesus!  I always tell people that if you want to see Jesus, you need to be a presence among the poor, the less fortunate, feed the hungry, and care for the lost.  Those are the places where Jesus hangs out!

In Psalm 27, the Psalmist, David knows the Lord. No doubt, that David has a strong and faithful relationship with God.  David confesses his faith right off the bat – “The Lord is my Light and my salvation…The Lord is the stronghold of my life…Come, my heart says, Seek His face…Your face, Lord, do I seek.”  This is how we should live our lives! – Seeking the face of our Lord; lurking in every nook and corner for even just a small glimpse of Him!

King David then says, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  (vv. 13-14) Spending time in the midst of those who are so broken, is very difficult.  In fact, it can be heart wrenching.  Seeing the Lord is our payoff!  God wants us to be there!  God wants us to be His hands and feet!  God wants us to pray for those who are suffering.  God will give us courage.  God will keep us strong.  The key is do you believe?

DAY NINE of ADVENT

When our boys were in the second and third grade, we were riding bikes together.  As we were zooming down this big hill, I had this vision that my youngest son got going so fast that he literally flew over the handlebars of the bike and crashed.  As I had this vision, I turned back to see if they were OK, and as soon as I did, my vision came to life.  It happened right before my eyes.  My vision of my son crashing on his bike was fulfilled in horror.

In Isaiah 40:1-11, the prophet has a vision that someone will cry out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  While it didn’t happen momentarily as my vision did, it was a prophecy of what was to come!  It is because of the prophecy in the Old Testament that we can know and believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  It was told to us before it ever happened.  Therefore, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the prophecy!

The prophet proclaims: Do not fear…Here is your God…he will feed his flock like a shepherd…and the Lord God comes with might…and the glory of God shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together!”

What a glorious future we have in our Lord Jesus!

DAY EIGHT of ADVENT

If you were asked to give a synopsis of your life – where would you begin?  Would you begin with your birth story – Where and when you were born?  Or, would you begin your story with your accomplishments – your successes, your passions, and the things you have done in your life?  If you were to write your own obituary, what would it say?  What are the things that you would want people to know about you?  What would maybe be the one most important thing that you would want others to know about you?

If Jesus came today, what would be the one thing you would want Jesus to recognize you for here in your life on earth and what you want Him to see you doing when He was standing in front of you?

In the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all begin to tell the story of Jesus from a different viewpoint and starting place. The birth of Jesus would seem to be the logical place to start.  However, in Matthew’s Gospel, the story of Jesus begins with the genealogy of Jesus.  In John’s Gospel, the story echoes Genesis – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.”  It is only in Luke’s Gospel where the writer begins the narrative with the birth of Jesus.  Here in the Gospel of Mark, there is no birth story.  Mark wants to get straight to the point – It begins with: “The Beginning of the Good News…” 

The beginning of the Good News is John the Baptist.  John is a non-conventional, non-conformist, and mission oriented.   He was not allowed to cut his hair, he lived in the wilderness, wore a tunic made from leather and wore a leather belt, and ate locusts and honey as his main meal.  John’s mission was to prepare the way of the Lord by calling out to people that Kingdom of Heaven was near and that they needed to repent their sins.  Those who did were baptized in the Jordan river.

John had to have an ‘inside’ tract to the coming of Christ because who else would have ever known what the mission of Christ would be?  John must have known that Jesus’ mission was to die for our sin – to provide an avenue in which, we would have the capability and the opportunity to have a relationship with our Lord!

I can’t help but to wonder if we truly understood what was happening, would it change how we live our lives?  Would our work be for the Lord if we believed that it mattered when Jesus came?  Would what we do day-to-day, change how we act, behave, the things that we say, the things that we do, and what we do with our spare time be different?

In his gospel, Mark ends with the empty tomb.  We are left to imagine and experience the wonder and mystery of God and how it will possibly affect our lives here on earth.  What we do here in the meantime – the here and now – may just determine our outcome at the end of this life.

If Jesus came today, what would be the one thing you would want Jesus to recognize you for here in your life on earth and what you want Him to see you doing when He was standing in front of you?

DAY SEVEN of ADVENT

I am so amazed these days at what doctors can do for us humans.  They can take out body parts, give us new body parts; give us new bones – such as hip and knee replacements; insert pace makers that keep our hearts beating regularly, and perform surgery without even cutting us open.  It’s truly fascinating and miraculous!  However, there is one thing that doctors or scientists cannot do – They cannot change our hearts from stone into a heart of love.

The prophet Ezekiel is told by God to go and tell His people, “A new heart I will give you, and anew spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh…and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (vv.26; 28).  For me, this begs the question:  Why would God do this?

I believe it is for the same reason we go to the doctor to receive new body parts or take out the ones that aren’t good anymore.  Just yesterday, a parishioner had her gall bladder taken out.  It literally had gone bad!  Fortunately, we can live just fine without one.  However, for the same reason we need God to give us a new heart and a new spirit so that we can live! – Not just live longer, but live forever!!

The real truth is that eventually our bodies will give out and there will be nothing the doctors can do to stop the deterioration.  However, with our “new hearts and a new spirit,” we belong to God – We are His people! Giving your life to our Lord Jesus Christ is a new beginning into your eternal life that starts right now!  The Good News?  You don’t have to wait for your body to deteriorate to experience the Love of Christ in your heart!