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Archive for December, 2015

Emmanuel

“And they shall call him, Emmanuel, ‘God with us.'” (Matthew 1:23b)

It’s Christmas, in case you haven’t noticed.  In August, I went into a small locally run store and found Christmas ornaments for sale.  One whole aisle had been set aside for Christmas decorations.  After I thought about it for a while, I understood it.  We have a lot of out-of-state tourists during the summer months, and many of the decorations were Maine oriented.  Who wouldn’t want a black bear, lobster, or fishing ornament for their tree!

Even though I shake my head at Christmas carols being played even as early as the beginning of November and the decorations starting to appear even before Halloween, I understand the merchants desire to make money.  But I also know that, as repetitive as it becomes, we keep forgetting the meaning of Christmas.

I noticed that yesterday when I mustered up my courage and drove to the Maine Mall.  Between the traffic, driving nearly the entire parking lot to find a place to park the car, walking half a mile just to reach an entrance (I don’t really mind the walking, though), jostling my way through the crowds, and waiting in line, I remembered why I avoid the shopping stuff both on Black Friday as well as the few weeks before Christmas.

Christmas has lost a lot of it’s so-called magic for me.  But then, magic isn’t what it’s all about anyway.  Christmas is about God-with-us, “Emmanuel.”  It’s a reminder that God came to earth to be one of us through Jesus, the Christ.  Everything about Jesus was countercultural; he turned things upside down and inside out to get the point across that God loves us and is with us – Emmanuel.

Who would have thought that a baby born to poor parents and living in the scandal of his mother being unwed when she conceived, the scandal of living in Nazareth which wasn’t recognized as a place where the Savior of the World would live and grow up, and the scandal of most everything he did when we touched lepers, ate with sinners, and associated with tax collectors and prostitutes!

Jesus still causes a scandal when he asks us to share God’s love even with our enemies.  We, as the Church of Jesus Christ, cause a scandal when we reach out to help others, provide food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, visit the sick and imprisoned, care for the needy, give clothes to the naked, support homeless shelters, and love the unlovable.  Emmanuel – “God with us.”  Emmanuel – “God working through us.”

Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace to all people on earth!  Merry Christmas – blessed New Year!

Messengers of Peace

Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me; suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.  The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming, says the Lord of heavenly forces.” Malachi 3:1 (CEB)

If we relate this passage from Malachi (3:1-4) to the other passage for this coming Sunday, December 6, we find similarities.  It sounds as if John the Baptist is the messenger described in Malachi.  Both are preparing the way of the Lord.  Both offer messages of warning and hope – hope for peace and renewal of the covenant with God.

Yet, the road to peace is often a challenging one.  In verses 2-3 of the Malachi passage, we read, “Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can withstand his appearance? He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver. He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.  They will belong to the Lord, presenting a righteous offering.” (C EB)

Hmmm.  I wonder how often I have gone through the refiner’s fire?  I wonder how many times I have been scrubbed with the cleaner’s soap?  I doubt that I can count them all, and in many ways, it seems like it’s a steady on-going process.  We have to have the rough edges cleaned away and all the “stuff” that keeps us from right relationship with God washed off throughout our lives.  It’s a constant process, and it can be painful.

Yet, I suspect we wouldn’t be able to recognize the peace that comes when we are through one more refining or washing if we didn’t go through it!  I once had a parishioner who told me that she had never had major losses in her life, and her life was calm and without a lot of problems.

I wondered what would happen to her when she began to have losses and problems.  Let’s face it, it’s hard to live in our world without them!  Life can bring us unexpected challenges that throw us off and try to bring us down.  It is the faith that we don’t go through that fire or soaping alone that helps us to keep on keeping on.

Another parishioner experienced the death of her mother, father, and two very close aunts within six months of each other.  She was in such grief, but she held it together, and when I asked her how she was doing, she told me that God was with her, giving her strength to keep on keeping on.

There is something about those experiences and knowing that we can go through them and come out on the other side still in one piece that brings us the peace of God – it’s, as the Bible says, “a peace that passes all human understanding.”  It’s a reminder of Jesus’ promise to “be with us to the end of the age.”  Through the power of the Holy Spirit and with the support and love and prayers of our families and friends in faith, we can keep on going.

So, this Advent, let us again remind ourselves that Emmanuel, “God-with-us” is truly that:  God is with us!  We don’t ever walk alone.  We can get through the tough times.  We can even have a sense of peace in the midst of the challenges knowing that “God has our back!”

How have you experienced God’s present with you (even if it’s in hindsight)?

In what ways can you grow in faith and hold onto the promises of God?

How will you share that Good News with others?

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