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Archive for December, 2012

God Knows

Now after they [the Magi] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’”  Matthew 2:13

Jesus was born into a violent and often evil world.  His earthly parents whisked him away, and they lived in Egypt until it was safe to return to Nazareth.  Jesus knew what it was like to be a refugee.  John the Baptist was beheaded; people were stoned to death; crucifixion was a common form of capital punishment during his day.  When Jesus was arrested, tried, beaten, and put to death, he experienced the violence and evil of the world full force.  Jesus knew what it was like to feel pain, heartache, anger, disgust, discouragement.  Because Jesus (Emmanuel:  God-With-Us) knew, God knew.  God still knows.

God knows our broken hearts, and I believe God’s heart is broken along with ours as we think of 26 people who died a week ago in Newtown, CT.  God knows the grief and horror of children being murdered senselessly, of the bravery of teachers and administrators who tried to protect them, of the fear they all felt, and the heart-wrenching feeling of no longer having your child with you physically.  God knows.  God walks with us.  We aren’t alone when we go through the struggles of life.  We haven’t been promised that everything will be “a bed of roses” but that we won’t be alone in the journey.  Even Jesus had to go through a horrible death.

When we raise our children, we can’t always interfere with their decisions, especially as they grow into their teenage and young adult years.  Sometimes, we have to wait for them to make mistakes and learn from them.  At least, we hope they learn from them.  It’s hard to watch, and if we could, we would change it, protect them, keep them from making mistakes that will negatively affect their lives.  But the reality of life is that bad things are going to happen.  God is with us in order to give us the strength to get through them.  Those who don’t know God’s love are separated from that love, and they make bad choices that hurt others – innocent others.

We can be part of offering a different way of making decisions when we choose love over hate, kindness over violence, compassion over revenge.  That is part of what loving our “enemies” is all about.  We choose to behave and react differently from the normal expectations.  We are part of offering hope to the world.  Look at all the good that has started to come out of these shootings.  Many people are beginning to do 26 acts of kindness – one for each person who was killed in Connecticut.  Many have offered prayers, sent cards of support, collected Christmas gifts, written e-mails, and done whatever they can in order to show their caring for the families and friends who have to deal with their loss.

God knows.  God understands.  God loves us.  God is with us.  That’s what Christmas all year looks like.  Let us be part of it each and every day!

Mary Had a Baby

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’  Then the angel departed from her.”  Luke 1:38

When we look at the culture of Jesus’ day, we can probably conclude (as tradition has indicated) that Mary was very young when she gave birth to Jesus.  As soon as a girl was able to bear children, she was married off so she could begin to procreate, and the marriages usually were pre-arranged and often to an “older man.”  Of course, with the life span as short as it was (in comparison to our day and age), most men may not have lived past thirty, and many women died in childbirth.

The objective was to have as many children as possible, so that is why we often see multiple wives.  Psalm 127:3-5 says – “Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth.  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.  He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”  The more sons a man had, the richer he was considered to be, and he had plenty of helpers to carry on the family business (whatever that was).

Daughters were seen as a way of obtaining a dowry and were to be trained properly to take over household duties until they were of a marrying age.  At that point, they were then sent to their husband’s household where they became the “property” of the patriarch of that family, and they were expected to produce heirs.  We don’t really know if there was ever play time for the children – it was certainly possible, but I suspect that much of what they did was to learn how to grow up quickly, at least in our 21st century mindset.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, she was perplexed, concerned, but after having a conversation, she agreed to her new calling.  What could God have been thinking?  She was so young!  She was so inexperienced!  She was poor and engaged to a poor man.  But Mary thought about everything, realized that she would go through some real hardships and would face possible stoning, rejection by Joseph, and being shamed in her home town.  Yet, she said, “Yes.”  She trusted God to make it all right.  That’s what God was looking for – faithfulness, trust, and the ability to persevere.

So Mary said, “Yes” and God made her the mother of Jesus who was the Savior of the world.  Mary’s humility and self-less behavior played a part in her being called by God.  God knew that he couldn’t have a mother who would be “freaking out” all the time or one who tried to take things over for herself thinking she knew better.  Throughout the birth narrative in Luke, we often read “And Mary pondered these things in her heart.”  This is a reminder to us that Mary thought things through, treasured the wonderful things God was doing, and probably shared them with Jesus as he was growing up.

Mary was mature beyond her years, it would seem.  So Mary had a Baby.  Not just any baby, but a Baby with a capital “B”.  Mary became the mother of God’s only son who became our Savior – the world’s Savior.  In the Protestant church, we have tried to downplay Mary in many ways, but I think it’s time to thank her for her faithfulness and willingness to risk everything to follow through with God’s instructions.  So, thanks, Mary.  Thanks for your example.  Thanks for your love for Jesus and sharing him with the world.  Thanks for loving him and helping him to grow up to love others.  Thanks, Mary, for your Baby boy became the Savior of the world.  Glory to God on high!

Being a Bridge

Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  Luke 3:4b

What does that mean, anyway:  “make his paths straight?”  Do we have to straighten out messes in order to prepare the way for the Lord?  Do we become bridges over troubled waters (as the song by Simon and Garfunkel goes)?  Are we supposed to fix everything that’s wrong in order for God to enter into a situation?

I have a friend who used to joke about being a bridge.  As a pastor, he often saw himself as a bridge between two factions who might be feuding or having disagreements.  His comment was that he was happy to be a bridge, but he was also reminded that in any war, the bridges were the first to be blown up.  Good point!

Yet, as those who are called, like John the Baptist, to prepare the way for the Lord, we place ourselves as bridges between God and those who might not want to hear about God.  We are the agents or witnesses for God in the world.  How are we doing?  Some groups believe that we need to be the type of witnesses that are “in your face,” preaching and verbally insisting that others listen to them because they have the only way to Christ.  Others go to church, say they believe in God, but live their lives as if they have never heard about God or how God wants us to live.  Still others say they believe in God, but they reject organized religion and say they can be a Christian without the church.  Who are the seekers of truth supposed to believe?

For me, I can’t even imagine my life without a community of faith.  That is where I find my family, am challenged to grow, am supported and trained, and am sent out into the world.  Every week I return to be reminded, rejuvenated, loved, and accepted for who I am with all my faults, and then am sent out again to build those bridges.  It’s my anchor in a difficult world that is suspicious of religion, believers, and faith in God.

The challenge as one who is commissioned to be a bridge is to find ways to make the connection, and the ultimate goal is to live my life so Christ shines through – no matter what that looks like.  My calling is to prepare the people to do the same thing, to be a minister to the ministers, to find ways to build bridges within the community of faith so that we all together can build bridges in the world.  What do we do as bridges?

We show kindness when we might have chosen anger.  We offer a hand of friendship even when someone rejects us.  We pray for those who mistreat us, and, even though we don’t roll over and act live a rug for people to wipe their feet on, we still don’t choose the way of returning abuse with abuse.  We choose peace over fighting, love over hate, kindness over meanness, compassion over hard-heartedness, and patience over impatience.  We build bridges with the fruits of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).

Although we don’t always succeed, persistence and consistency are our best tools for building the bridges.  May we continue this Advent season seeking the paths that we can “straighten” so that we have prepared the way for Christ to move forward.  May Christ work through us as we build those bridges.  Amen.

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