Monday, December 17, 2012

Whether or not there was/is a Grudge.

Luke 2:17
When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;

Here’s where I think Mary and Joseph might have had a difference of opinion. For Mary, this is amazing news. Who wouldn’t want to know that their child is incredibly special? But for Joseph things are murkier. Yes, this is a special child, but it’s technically not his child! Furthermore, he knows it!

Obviously it would appear that over time Joseph put such understandable misgivings aside. Or did he? We’ll never know.

With Christmas gatherings on the horizon, sometimes we encounter people who give us reason to cringe for one reason or another. Maybe they said something once that rubbed us the wrong way or maybe they just behave in a way that grates on our nerves. My only advice would be to take a cue from Joseph and act in such a way that, even if there is a grudge of some kind brewing, history doesn’t record it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Finding Extraordinary in the Simple

Luke 2:12
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

I used to enjoy the old Indiana Jones Movies. I remember in one movie he had to choose the proper chalice among many. There were lots of really fancy ones on display, but the real chalice was the plain unadorned one. Just a simple cup, really.

The sign the angel promised to the shepherds was really plain. A child. Just wrapped up in ordinary cloth. Lying, of all places, in a manger.

Years ago my mom used to give me some of my Christmas presents in a brown paper bag stapled shut at the top with my name scribbled big letters with magic marker. She wasn’t being disrespectful. She had a lot on her plate and wrapping presents just wasn’t where she chose to spend her energy. But the gifts, well, the gifts were still precious. Both the gift itself and the gift of knowing who it came from.

The shepherds were about to discover as much and more.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Who Is Jesus?

Luke 2:11
to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Who are you, really? Personally I wear several different hats. To my wife I’m a husband. To our children I am a father. To those who attend Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, I am a pastor. By the grace of God I am all three of these things and many more.

Jesus, according to the angel, was Savior, Messiah, and Lord. We all need saved from something, so we need a Savior. We are all drawn to someone who is truly anointed, and so knowing the Messiah (which means the anointed one) is as good as it gets. And for all our talk about wanting to be captain of our own ship and all the rest, well, truth be told, if there were simply someone else that we could trust truly had the world’s best interests at heart, well, we’d be glad to proclaim him or her Lord.

In Jesus the shepherds found their Savior, Messiah, and Lord. He was all that they could ever ask for. Born in their day, in their nearby town, and coming soon to a theater of life near you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Personal and Public Good News

Luke 2:10
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

Recently I learned that my nephew is engaged. This is his personal good news of great joy. But even though the news is personal, it’s not private or exclusive. Last night Facebook was all awash with “likes” and congratulatory comments and happy pictures and all the rest related to the news of their engagement. Clearly it was news of great joy for lots of people, not just my nephew and his fiancĂ©.

How sweet it was, according to Luke, for the shepherds to be among the first to know of the joyful news for all the people. Yes, the news was intended specifically for the shepherds. But it was also specifically intended for everyone else. Maybe even you. And like the angel said, there’s no need to be afraid. It’s good news of great joy!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Keeping Calm in spite of Circumstances

Luke 2:9
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

When I speak in terms of a calmer Christmas, I don’t mean to imply that it will be non-eventful. Scary stuff happens in this world. Yet when such things happen around this time of year it seems to catch us by surprise, as if such things should not be allowed to happen over the holidays.

When a custody battle is lost, a personal relationship breaks, a job ends, a challenging diagnosis is given, a pink slip issued, or the house burns down—we consider it insult added to injury if it happens over Christmas—as if it would have been any easier if had happened in, let’s say, January.

The fact that so many of us think that such things shouldn’t happen over Christmas reveals just how far removed we are from the very first Christmas. But if we have the courage to enter back into the story, we can see a more realistic and less idealistic picture.

Scripture says that the shepherds were “terrified” when the angel of the Lord stood before them. In the Gospel of Matthew’s version of this story, every child under the age of 2 was to be killed by order of Herod with the hopes that Jesus would be among them. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to flee for their lives. It doesn’t sound like a very calm Christmas, does it? And, of course, we just read a couple days ago that Mary and Joseph had to settle for manger in shed because there was no room for them in the inn. It was a VERY eventful Christmas for them and not particularly calm at all.

In a few days we’ll learn how the terrified shepherds eventually got their courage back. But for now, let us be content to know that the calmer way to Christmas has more to do with one’s mindset than one’s circumstances. If we get nothing else out of Christmas, let us at least remember that the whole point of Christmas is not an absence of drama but, rather the presence of Jesus in the midst of it all.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Calmer Way to Christmas for December 8th

Luke 2:8
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

While most of the world sleeps, some people are still up. In our culture police cruise the streets, paramedics await a call, convenience store workers exchange goods for cash, and shift-workers take their turn. There are also those who wish they could sleep, but for some reason are still up—or up again.

And then it happens…something out of the ordinary occurs that only a few will see.

I remember being at a family gathering late into the night one summer. We were at my uncle’s house when all of a sudden we noticed a peculiar red glow in the Southeastern sky. Strange. We got in our cars. We had to go see. It was a fire. An old barn had caught—or more likely been set—on fire. We alone were there to see it—and to call the fire department and such—all because we were still up.

Somebody always is—just like the shepherds who were keeping watch over their flock by night.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Calmer Way to Christmas Devotion #7

Luke 2:7
"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."

You’ve probably heard stories of your own birth. In my case I was the last of six children. When mom realized that it was time to head to the hospital, she sent my older sisters to the barn to tell my Dad. Mom, of course, had been through this routine several times before and therefore had tried to hold off as long as she could. Dad, of course, had also been through this routine several times before and figured there was no real rush. I’m told that’s why he went ahead and milked three more cows. All I can say is that I’m glad I wasn’t in the car—well, in a way I guess I was—to hear what mom said to dad when she found out the reason for his delay. That couldn’t have been pretty…

But then again, I wonder what kind of chilly reception Joseph got years earlier when he broke the news to Mary that there was no room in the inn and a stable and a manger would have to do.

Nevertheless, we all made it, we look back now and laugh, we realize all that we were upset about or irritated about didn’t matter that much. God did what God was gonna do and the world has never been the same since.

Thanks, and have a great day.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Calmer wy to Christmas Day 6

Luke 2:6
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably got a pretty vivid memory of the birth of your first child. For us the event began at around 4:00 am when my wife got up in the night and I suddenly realized that it was, well, TIME.

I downed a quick bowl of cereal while she finished getting ready and then off to the hospital we went. Complicating matters for me was the fact that it was a Sunday morning. Thankfully we had given the president of the congregation a sermon manuscript from Tony Campolo (since I don’t use manuscripts myself when I preach) as a contingency plan. I think he practically gave birth to something or another himself when I called him at around 7:30 am and said he’d be preaching that day. But preach it he did-- and it was a good thing too—our son was born at 10:40 am that day, almost to the minute of when, back at church, the president finished the sermon with a rousing AMEN! That was quite a day!

I can only imagine what Joseph was thinking when Mary told him that it was time. It means everything else that he may have planned for the day would suddenly be put on hold. More pressing matters were at hand.

The calmer way to Christmas takes to heart that it’s okay to have a change of plans for important matters. Whether one must awake from a sound sleep or simply take a pause from the project of the moment, occasionally one must simply MAKE time whenever it IS time for a monumental event. That’s what happened to Joseph and Mary so many years ago.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Calmer Way To Christmas Devtion #5

(Note: On a new toll-free recorded message center (877-470-1910, ext 1) for the church I serve I am making available 24 personally-written daily Advent Devotions as part of a "Calmer Way to Christmas" series. Each of the first 20 of these 24 devotions is based on verses from the Gospel of Luke's version of the Christmas story. During this Advent Season I've decided to suspend my normal devotional practice and post the transcripts of these "Calmer Way to Christmas" Advent devotions instead. Below is today's installment. If you wish to listen to the devotion instead, simply call the number above and then choose extension 1.)

Luke 2:5
"He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child."

Back in 1989 I took what, at the time, was the biggest there’s-no-turning-back journey of my life. I was on my way to Frankfurt, Germany to serve as an intern for a year. Granted, it was the land of my ancestors, but I couldn’t speak German and had never been out of the United States with the exception of a college fishing trip or two to Canada. This trip was big.

Thankfully, I didn’t go alone. Right by my side on the giant 747 was my wife who had actually spent a couple years in Europe as a child. Looking back, I don’t think there’s any way that I would have ever signed up for such an experience without knowing that she would be by my side all the way. Sure, I’m a pretty self-sufficient kind of guy, but I’ve also got my limits. I appreciate and am sometimes surprisingly dependent on support from others. With the presence of my wife I was good to go. Without it I’m not sure I would have ever made the trip.

Joseph was blessed with loyal companionship on his journey to his ancestral homeland as well. Mary was there right by his side. It’s a Good thing too. We’d have no Christmas story without her.

Granted, we don’t always have the opportunity to take trips with loved ones close by. Sometimes we have to seemingly to go it alone. But then again, the calmer way to Christmas includes the belief that, whether we have someone physically present with us or not, there is an ever greater presence at hand—even though he originally came in a very small package.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Calmer Way to Christmas Devotion #4

(Note: On a new toll-free recorded message center (877-470-1910, ext 1) for the church I serve I am making available 24 personally-written daily Advent Devotions as part of a "Calmer Way to Christmas" series. Each of the first 20 of these 24 devotions is based on verses from the Gospel of Luke's version of the Christmas story. During this Advent Season I've decided to suspend my normal devotional practice and post the transcripts of these "Calmer Way to Christmas" Advent devotions instead. Below is today's installment. If you wish to listen to the devotion instead, simply call the number above and then choose extension 1.)

Luke 2:4
Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.

The other night, near midnight, I went to pick out our son from a friend’s house. Just as I headed out the door to the car it started to rain and I got rather wet. I remember thinking to myself, “it wasn’t raining a minute ago. couldn’t this rain have held off for 30 more seconds?” As I started driving it really started pouring. I’m talking a flat out slow-the-car-down-so-you-don’t-hydoplane-off-the-road kind of downpour. I remember thinking “this is nuts… …it’s late…I’m tired…I should be home in bed…why am I doing this?”

Then I remembered. “Oh yeah, I’m doing this because our son is, to sum it up with one word: family.”

Now no family is perfect, but family is our starting point in life. It’s our base camp from which we depart and often return. Even if we don’t return by choice or circumstance, it’s part of who we are and the reason we sometimes wake up with concern in the night or well-up with a tear of joy at a special event. I thought to myself that night, “you know, it won’t be long until this precious son of ours has his own license and he won’t need me to pick him up anymore and then there will be times when I will wish like crazy that I could go out and drive him home in the pouring rain rather than worry about him being out there all by himself.

In similar fashion, the trip that Joseph had to take those many years ago was almost certainly a major inconvenience. It’s doubtful that he travelled through much rain in that region, but I would imagine he probably ran into other issues as he travelled. But travel he did. Why? Because of family. The Bible tells us he went “because was descended from the house and family of David.” The Emperor may have ordered the census, but it was David’s family heritage that determined where he would ultimately need to go.

The calmer way to Christmas always seeks to see how our journeys through life, regardless of how inconvenient, can still be well worth our time.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Calmer Christmas Devotions 1-3

On a new toll-free recorded message center (877-470-1910) for the church I serve I am making available 24 personally-written daily Advent Devotions as part of a "Calmer Way to Christmas" series. Each of the first 20 of these 24 devotions is based on verses from the Gospel of Luke's version of the Christmas story. During this Advent Season I've decided to suspend my normal devotional practice and post these my Advent devotions instead. However, since I just made this decision today, you're a little behind. So today I will post the first 3 of these devotions, one for each of the first 3 verses from Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke. Starting tomorrow there will simply be one devotion posted each day.

Luke 2:1
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.

Last night I went to a seventh-grade girls basketball game in which our daughter played. Our team played hard, but clearly the other team had more experience and skill. The final score of 46 to 11 pretty much put an exclamation point on that fact.

As humans, we LOVE to keep score, don’t we. We love to have some tangible means of measuring success, so much so that often we make up little scores of our own. We size up each other’s cars and living arrangements, take note of who has accomplished what by the time of each high school reunion, and otherwise endeavor to know each other’s pecking order in life.

This is essentially why Emperor Augustus decreed that all the world should be registered. He was ordering a census, but this census was about more than mere curiosity. Augustus wanted to keep score in terms of the size of his kingdom and his realm of influence. Perhaps he wondered if his kingdom was 4 times the size of other kingdoms.

But as he was about to discover, outward scores don’t always tell the whole story. People driving modest cars or living in quite basic accommodations sometimes have more money in the bank than some people who appear to be living more luxuriously but are actually perilously close to foreclosure. In the case of last night’s basketball game, the final score doesn’t reflect the possibility that one or more of our girls, perhaps even one coming off the bench, may have played the best game of her life.

And Emperor Augustus? Well, he may have had the power to order a Census, but consider this. Once the census was all said and done, history records very little about the person who ordered the counting, yet devotes an entire New Testament to tell the amazing story of one of the people he counted.

The calmer way to Christmas takes to heart the fact that life is not so much about trying to prove that we’ve won but rather, to acknowledge that we’ve been won over by the story of the Christ Child who counts most of all.

Luke 2:2
This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

I’ve been a pastor now for over 20 years and have been blessed to serve in three different congregations. What I think is interesting is that congregations tend to keep track of their respective histories by who was pastor at the time. People will say something to the affect of, “well, we built this or started doing that when pastor so and so was here.” It’s a way of marking time.

We do the same thing as a country in terms of presidents. Mention Cuban Missile Crisis and we all think of John F. Kennedy. Mention Watergate and we think of Richard Nixen. Mention Iranian Hostage Crisis and we think of Jimmy Carter. End of Cold War? Ronald Regan. It’s a way of marking time.

Sometimes the Bible marks time in much the same way. The Bible says that first census of those days took place while a fella named Quirinius was the governer of Syria. That probably doesn’t mean much to most of us these days, but it is a way of marking time. A way of saying that this story that Scripture is about to unfold really happened at a particular time and in a particular place on this very earth that serves as our home.

The calmer way to Christmas takes to heart the fact that we needn’t get overly concerned with little details of the moment. By the grace of God we are part of a much larger story covering centuries of time that all started when a fella that we otherwise would never heard of was Governer of Syria.

Luke 2:3
All went to their own towns to be registered.

We’ve spent a couple days reflecting on ancient leaders (like Augustus and Quirinius) who thought they were big shots in their day but really weren’t in the greater scheme of things. That’s true. But it’s also true that leaders, whether for good or ill, can change the common person’s everyday life with the stroke of a pen.

When Emperor Augustus ordered the census, that meant that thousands of people had to take the time and effort to accommodate his command. For those who never moved away from the place of their upbringing, this may have been no big deal. For others the command would require a trip back home.

A trip back home can conjure up all sorts of feelings. Some might see it as wonderful opportunity to catch up again with family and friends. For others a trip back home might bring up feelings of dread. Perhaps the thought of home brings up painful child-hood memories of a place where it was hard to fit in or where our experiences were not always the best. Maybe we are no longer the same as we were back then and are not so sure that we even want to go back. Perhaps the expense of the trip comes at bad time.

No matter, Emperor Augustus made his decree and everyone was required to follow suit.

But here’s the thing. Whether leaders make good decrees or bad, God has a way of bringing something good out of it. It was on November 6th that I first outlined today’s reflection. That was election day in the United States. At the end of that day some people were happy and others were not.

For the record, I’m not here to trumpet or bemoan this year’s election results at any level. But I am here to remind us all that, historically speaking, the work of God has never been dependent on the faith of a mere secular leader. Such truth doesn’t rule out the possibility of a leader creating major inconveniences with the stroke of his or her pen. It’s been done before and it will be done over and over again. But the calmer way to Christmas realizes that, over time, such inconveniences can be seen much like Augustus’ ordering of a census—just another part of a larger and more glorious story to tell.