Tag Archive: Christmas

A Refreshing Advent

This past July I had the joy and pleasure of preaching each afternoon at Bethlehem UMC’s weeklong campmeeting.  Each day we gathered under the outdoor worship center for praying, singing, and proclaiming the Word.  I remember many wonderful moments from those five days.  The time a bee flew down my shirt causing me to dance during the sermon.  And the breeze that scattered my notes to the ground mid-sermon.  Or the intense heat that found its way into even the shadiest corners of the pavilion.

However, I also remember the young boys who brought popsicles to the crowd following each service.  The flavorful treat was exactly what we needed at the time.  We needed something refreshing, something cool, something seemingly heaven-sent.  After the first few days I began to look forward to that moment following the service when I knew a young boy (a friend by the end of the week) would hand me my favorite flavor, blue (he was a quick learner!).

Now, as we approach the Christmas season I suspect there will be times when we feel as though we’re waltzing (or maybe tangoing) from place to place.  Or instances when we’re swept away by all the things that simply must be done.  And other moments when the pressures of the season bring out our worst “good-will.”  Perhaps in those moments we need something refreshing, something uplifting.  Perhaps we need a moment with God.  This Advent season, take a moment, among all the hectic moments, to offer thanks and praise to God.  Take time to recall God’s coming into our world, and into our hearts.

But lest we think that we should only call upon God when we think we need God the most, let us make praise a regular part of Christmas preparation (a novel idea, isn’t it?).  Start an Advent devotion with the whole family.  Pray together at meals and get-togethers.  Spend time at church during the many wonderful Advent opportunities.  Send a card to a loved one.  Bake cookies for a neighbor.  Take a moment, even when you don’t think you have one to spare, to remember and share God’s love with others.


Holiday Blues?

My brothers and I pulled the tape measure from out of the snow a second time; we wanted to make sure our first reading was accurate.  Sure enough, another attempt yielded the same result: 19 inches of snow…in our backyard!  There would certainly be no school today or tomorrow, maybe not for the next week.

I still remember our excitement that morning.  Overnight, a record snowfall blanketed our town.  As a result, we had to get to work.  There were snowmen to build, snowball fights to plan, and hills to sled down.

However, I also remember sensing the uneasiness in our house.  We really were “in it deep.”  We were stuck, our house covered halfway up to the windows.  The cars were barely visible.  The front door would not open.  Did we have enough food?  So, in addition to our fun snow adventures, we also added “shoveling” to our to-do list.  That solid covering of white that seemed so magical to my 10 year-old eyes had us trapped…buried…swamped…immobile.

Today, as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays wind down, we can often find ourselves feeling much like my family felt that cold and snowy morning in 1994.  We feel weighed down…burdened…overwhelmed…exhausted.  The emotional “high” of the holidays is over.  There are no more twinkling lights, no more presents, and no more carols.  Removing decorations leaves the walls quite bare.  Family and friends no longer occupy the living room.  Many of us must head back to work or school.  Bills will probably appear in the mailbox soon.  “What now?” we might wonder.

As I think of these emotions that so many experience after the holidays, I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, NIV)   While we may feel trapped or pressed by snow, or bills, or loneliness, we are not crushed.  Though we may experience a hint of sadness or confusion, we are not abandoned because God, who came to us on Christmas morning, abides with us still today.  God, Immanuel, promises to keep us in His steadfast love so that we may not live in despair or desertion.  So, while we celebrate God during the joyous time of the holidays, we must also remember that God remains by our side in the times that trouble us.  It is my prayer that we proclaim with the psalmist: “I love you, O LORD, my strength.” (Psalm 18 )

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for Christmas Day:

Isaiah 52:7-10

Psalm 98

Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)

John 1:1-14

The Revised Common Lectionary texts for Christmas Eve:

Isaiah 9:2-7

Psalm 96

Titus 2:11-14

Luke 2:1-20

“Witnesses to the Light”2902183729_2504d96a5c

Again, this Sunday, like last week, we encounter John.  Only this time we get John the gospel writer’s version of John.  When it comes to John (the Baptist) the four gospels are perplexing. In fact, each gospel portray a slightly different version of John.  For Matthew, it’s “John the Baptist.”  Mark refers to “John the Baptizer.”Luke acknowledges John as “the son of Zechariah.”  And today, in the gospel of John we get just plain “John.”  The fourth gospel writer doesn’t say anything about John’s clothes, food, or family; it’s just “John.”

If we read only John the gospel writer’s version of John, we might have a lot of a questions about this “John.  In fact, the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders…they were curious about John.  What is he doing?  What is his role?  What is going on here?  So, they come to examine him.  You can imagine them shining a flashlight in his face, demanding to know who he is.  Where did you come from?  What denomination are you?  What is your theoloigical stance?  Are you the Messiah?  Elijah?  Prophet?

NO! John answers.  I am NOT!

Commentator Don Juel refers to this John as the “man who is not.”  He is not the light.  He is not the Messiah.  He is not Elijah. He is not the final Prophet.  He is not worthy to untie the true One’s sandals. He is not the one to baptize with the Holy Spirit.

But finally, John is pressed enough, and responds, John says: “I am a voice.  I am a witness.  I am a sign pointing to the One who is to come.”

Will Willimon relates John’s words as: I am God’s megaphone. I am the smell of the coffee that wakes you up in the morning; I am that darn alarm clock that so jars you in the morning.  I am a voice that says only one thing: “the light is coming.”

John is a witness, a sign pointing to Christmas morning.

We all need a witness…and sign…pointing us in the right direction.  You never realize how dependent you are on street signs til you live in a new place: road signs, street signs have saved me a few times.  We need signs…pointing the way…directing us.  And today, we encounter John …who, like last week, is preparing the people for Jesus
— pointing the way to Jesus.

John interrupts our Christmas story of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem, and staying in a manger…to prepare the way, to direct us.

As I think about it, isn’t it nice that God would send John ahead of Jesus to warn the people, prepare the people, to make straight the paths; to point us to Jesus the light.

But as we know, the Jesus story doesn’t end with John or the manger or Christmas morning.  Jesus’ life and ministry doesn’t end with simply being born…the story continues all the way until Jesus is taken up to Heaven (Acts 1).  And then, Jesus’ offers his last words: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and all the ends of the earth.”

Just as we receive a John as a witness, sign during Christmas, God calls us all the be signs and witnesses.  We, Christians, God’s says are to be a witness to the light of Christ.  Like John, you and I are called to be witnesses to Christ’s work on behalf of all mankind in every time and place.  We are to confess who we are, and whose we are…and we are Christ’s, God’s beloved children.  We witness to Jesus, the light of the world.  Jesus said: “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).”

Now, more than ever, the world we live needs a light/needs a witness.  We see  the situations in our community–people facing violence, drugs, poverty, jobs lose, injustice, and economic strife.  You and I encounter people who are spiritually starving.  More than half of America’s population is not active in any church with little, if any, knowledge of basic biblical teachings.  H. George Anderson, a Lutheran bishop, has said, “People are hungry for God, yet are settling for spiritual junk food(Wm. Quick).”

Yes, people are searching!

Unfortunately, too many people are searching in the wrong places.  What they are looking for can’t be bought off of eBay.  It can’t be read in a self-help book.  It can’t be bought and gift-wrapped at a mall.  Each one of us has a hole in the heart that only God can fill (Quick).

“Everyone is looking for you and me – they seek a witness like John, one who points toward the Lord who can release their sins and fears.”

I am reminded of one of my favorite church camp songs: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine”

This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

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