January 7, 2019- Celebrate! Jesus, the Light of the World- Genesis 1:1-5, 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, Matthew 5:14-16

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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Genesis 1:1-5 (ESV)

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Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.  But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 (ESV)

Epiphany is a celebration of revelation. We celebrate the enlightening of the world. We see God revealed to His people in Jesus, the Light of the world. (John 8:12)

Light is an interesting thing. When the lights are on we see things clearly that might not have been evident in the dark.  Anyone who has stepped on dog bones or Legos in the middle of the night in a dark hallway appreciates how easily one can get hurt stumbling in the dark.

Light has a way of repelling and scattering things that rely on the cover of darkness to flourish. Vermin invade and pilfer and destroy in dark places, but not in the light of day. Cockroaches scatter when a flashlight is shined on them and their dank hiding places are exposed.

While all of us live the paradox of saint-and-sinner at the same time, we who are baptized and marked with the Cross of Christ reflect the light and the image of God. The God who said, “Let there be light” is the same God who saves us with His impossible good news.  He is the same God whose Holy Spirit shines His light in and through us.

Not everyone is happy about this great good news. Herod was none too thrilled to hear that there was a true King of the Jews.  Herod tried to kill Jesus before He could ever grow up into a man.  (Matthew 2:13-25) Herod wanted to do away with the light so that the status quo of darkness and corruption could continue on.

God’s people face opposition wherever we go. Our own sinful nature opposes us (the age old battle of our wills vs. God’s will) as well as the forces of evil that live in the world. As we reflect Jesus’ light the elements of darkness will oppose us.  Even so, we press on, because of who Jesus has made us.

Jesus says to His disciples, His people who reflect His light: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

It may not seem like it at times, but the Light of the world has come. Celebrate and be glad.

God With Us, (Luke 2:8-20, John 3:16-17) Jesus, Herod and the Holy Innocents (Matthew 2:13-18)

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And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)

We all know and love the Christmas story. We marvel at the miracle of the Incarnation and can even imagine hearing the angels sing on that blessed night. The Light of God came down to earth. The birth of Jesus is good news indeed. It is wonderful for us to gather around in the light and the wonder of Jesus’ birth. We should celebrate and be glad that God has come to live and be with us. We are reminded of the timeless, sweet, saving Good News from the Gospel of John:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”- John 3:16-17 (ESV)

If not for the miracle of Jesus’ birth, we would have no Savior. There would be no one qualified to be the one Sacrifice to save us from sin, death and hell. We would be left without hope and forever under the death curse of Adam and Eve.

There is another side to the liturgical season of Christmas that is not as popular with the culture around us, yet it is an integral part of the story.

Jesus entered into our world of suffering. The King of Glory, Jesus, entered into a world in which glory would be subdued, and sacrificed. He exchanged His sovereign crown for a crown of thorns. He became the cursed one to die on a tree, the One who bore our griefs, who carried our sorrows and was smitten by God and afflicted in our place. (Isaiah 53:1-5)  He took the punishment we earn and deserve.

In this world of not-yet, we have been baptized not only into the eternal life of Jesus, but also into a life of sacrifice and suffering in the here and now. Jesus Himself said that if we are in love with our lives here in this world we will lose our lives, but if we lose our life for Him we will gain it. (Matthew 16:25)   We are not promised an easy life here and now.  This is a temporary place.

In the liturgical season of Christmas- along with the joyful, blessed Incarnation- we also remember those who gave their lives, willingly or even unknowingly, for the sake of Christ.

Now when they (the wise men of the East) had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, 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.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 (ESV)

The Slaughter of the Innocents is a particularly sad commemoration. Herod was so desperate to maintain his own earthly might- confusing the King of Kings for an earthly ruler- that he killed hundreds of baby boys so as to do away with any potential threats to his power.  God made a way to keep Jesus safe, just as He had provided for Moses to be pulled from the river Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter.  Herod had no way of knowing that he would die in a few short years himself.  So much for earthly power.

Yet in Bethlehem, the city of Jesus’ birth, we can see the anguish of so many mothers over the loss of their baby boys, the senseless killing, and the unspeakable grief. We cannot help to acknowledge in this not-yet world that even the most blessed and joyful of events are tainted with our suffering and grief.

It is sobering that even in great joy, we are living the paradox. In this bittersweet world full of sin, we are soaked in death and despair and disappointment.  Yet in Christ we are baptized- soaked in His LIFE- so that no matter what weeping and sorrow and loss we face in this life can win out.  We know the end of the story.  Jesus wins, and so do we who trust in Him.

 

 

January 5, 2018 Epiphany- God Runs the Show- Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:1-4, 7-12, Luke 3:16

wise men

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 (NIV)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born…

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:1-4, 7-12 (NIV)

Few things drive people to drastic action more than threats to their authority and power. Herod, as we learn later in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 2:13-18), had no desire to come and worship the King of Kings.  Herod attempted to eliminate who he perceived as a threat to his reign while He was still vulnerable and easily dispensed with.

How do we deal with perceived threats to our authority or to our egos? It’s human nature to get defensive.  Nobody wants to be upstaged by the new talent at work or one upped by someone younger or less experienced than we are.  Nobody wants their power taken away.  We all naturally defend what we believe to be ours.  Some of us go even further and just take anything we can take by force.

The struggle over authority is as old as time. Pride, the serpent’s temptation in the Garden, convinces us that we are worthy of a position that God never intended for us. Humans will do incredibly inhumane acts in the pursuit of power.

Did Herod realize that his authority wasn’t really his authority at all, but only what God allowed him to have?

One of the most liberating and refreshing epiphanies we can have (the word epiphany means “to shine light on, to reveal”) is to discover for ourselves that God is in control. God decides who plays what role at what time.  It is God who determines the course of His world.  We may not understand how and why- and we might not agree with who He works through and when He does things, but God is the director of this dance.

Herod’s will was for Jesus to die an infant, before He could teach and preach and heal and live as an example for this world. Instead, God made a way to preserve the infant Jesus and keep Him safe until Herod was no more. (Matthew 2:19-23)

The Magi had the right attitude toward the pursuit of wisdom and power and strength. Theirs was one of humility and wonder. They truly did want to worship and adore this great King.

John the Baptist had the right attitude toward the authority and power of Jesus.

“John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Luke 3:16 (NIV)

 

December 28, 2016- The Holy Innocents, Rachel Crying for Her Children, Because They Are No More- Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:16-18

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When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:16-18, (Jeremiah 31:15)

The Sunday after Christmas many Christian churches recognize the Holy Innocents- the children who were killed by Herod’s men two years after the birth of Jesus.

The reference to Rachel is meaning all of the descendants of Jacob- the people of Israel, God’s people.

Ironically Herod never would have to worry about anyone of Jesus’ age  being a challenge to his throne.  He died not much later than the slaughter of the Innocents.

It seems senseless that Herod would have such an issue with someone who would not have been able to assume any kind of power until long after Herod’s death, but his malice and insecurity- or perhaps even denial of his own inevitable mortality- reached that far.

It seems heartless and barbaric to modern society that such a tragedy would have been permitted to happen, and even sanctioned by the authorities, but senseless slaughter of the young persists even today.

Who is weeping for the loss of their children today?  How many young lives in our own community are cut short or badly broken by the evils of chemical dependence, random promiscuity, poverty and violence?

We can look back at the slaughter of the Innocents as a historical event perpetrated by an evil leader, but we can also see how we have our own version of this senseless waste of talent and life going on here and now.

The question in this is, what can we do to protect and empower youth?  Not just parents, but the community in general.  We may not live to see them thrive and bring about God’s Kingdom on earth, but we can do what we can to protect them and build them up.

December 22, 2016- Wise Men and Kings, Matthew 2:1-2, Matthew 2:13-18

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In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” Matthew 2:1-2 (NRSV)

Herod wasn’t exactly a nice guy.  Especially when anyone threatened his sovereignty.  Herod saw himself as being In Charge, and anyone who may have been seen as a challenge to that control was seen as a threat to be neutralized. Later, when Herod learned that Jesus was indeed the long foretold King of the Jews, born in Bethlehem, he ordered what was to be known as the Slaughter of the Innocents-

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” Matthew 2:16-18 (NRSV)

Historically not much is known about the wise men from the east.  Legend has it that there were three, however, the Bible does not give a number.  There may have been two, or twenty.  The important part of the story is that they followed the star that was put forth as a sign, and they searched after Jesus without even really being aware of what His coming meant for the world and for humanity. They also took heed to the warning given to them in a dream not to return to Herod, allowing time for Jesus’ family to take Him to safety in Egypt during this time. (Matthew 7:13-15)

It is said that “wise men still seek Him.”  But do we really seek God with diligence in everything we do, and in everyone we encounter?

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8 (NRSV)

Wisdom isn’t necessarily found as much in the answers as in asking the right questions.  When we search and knock and ask God we might not get the answers we think we are going to get.  The wise men sought after an earthly king- but they discovered what appeared to be a poor family with a infant that was born in an animal barn.

Did they know that they found the King of Kings?  Are we seeking Him also?

Are we asking the right questions?  Are we listening to the answers, and the warnings that God gives us?