2015 ends today. Tomorrow is the start of 2016. Today is Thursday. Tomorrow will be Friday. In one sense, today is just another day. While all this is true, there is still something special about the coming to the end of one year and the anticipation of a new year about to come.
People often celebrate at the end of the year. As people of God we too should celebrate all that He has done to touch our lives in the past year. As we look back over the year, may we offer our thanks to God for the guidance, blessings, and love He has poured out upon us. May we also give thanks for the opportunities we have had to share His message and His love with others. And lastly, may we give Him thanks for the times when His strength and love were all that carried us through.
As 2016 is about to dawn, we also must look forward to the new year. We wonder what all God has in store for us. We wonder how and where we will grow in our relationship with God and anticpate the ways He will use us in 2016 to be His light and love and hope in our world. May we enter into the new year as eager disciples, seeking to draw ever closer to God in our walk of faith and seeking to be ever more like Jesus in our walk in the world.
At Christmas it can be easy to get into the receiving mode. Although Christmas is really about the birth of Christ, it can be easy to slip into this mode. Today’s passage begins by listing all we receive in and through Christ. Through Jesus Christ we are blessed and adopted as children of God. In Jesus’ blood we find the forgiveness of our sins. Through Jesus’ perfect life and example we have come to know God’s will. In Christ, through a personal relationship with Him, we receive the gift of our eternal inheritance. In this list we find much that we “get” from Christ. But that us not the point of the passage.
Paul’s first point is to remind us why we receive so much. His answer is rooted solely in one thing: love. We are part of God’s family, washed clean in Jesus’ blood, and promised eternal life because God loves us deeply. It is a love that sees all of our flaws and sins and tendency to be independent yet loves us unconditionally anyway.
Paul’s second point is to reveal our correct response to all that God has given: to praise His name. In doing so we turn all the attention to God. God is at the center of it all and our praise needs to recognize and acknowledge God as our all in all. In doing so we become less and He becomes more. It is as it should be. To Him be all the glory and praise forever and ever! Amen.
In today’s section of Jeremiah, God is promising the Israelites a return to normal. It has been so long that captivity and exile have become almost normal for them. But their faith in God has kept them connected to and in touch with what is their normal homeland. Thus they long to return and to once again live in safety under God’s protection. It is a great place to live.
For most of us, this is were we exist. We live a relatively comfortable and secure life. There is food in the fridge and gas in the car. The house is warm and is secure. Employment will be at the same place tomorrow and my family will be around me in the evening. This indeed is wonderful ‘normal’ and a great place to live.
But for some this is not the case. In our call to care for the poor and needy, this situation disturbs my peace. Even though it got down to the low single digits last night, some people slept outside. Many of the people without the basics we take for granted will abuse drugs and/or alcohol as a means to cope with the despair, hopelessness, and other feelings generated by their situations. The substance abuse often leads to an increase in the acts of violence on the streets and to the higher levels of fear that permeate the homeless community. I do not think I would last long in this world, but it is ‘normal’ for far too many people.
So what is God calling me to do? Is it to donate warm clothing to the local shelter? Is it to volunteer time at the nearby day center? Is it to teach a class that empowers one who is struggling to make positive changes in their life? It may be one or more of these or something entirely different. Lord, help me to discern where and how You are sending me to be in ministry to those in need.
For many who return to work today, it signals the end of the Christmas season. For most it is a return to the normal routine and it is a good thing. We are creatures of habit. For the students, vacation lasts a little longer. But soon enough, even for them, it is nice to return to the routine of school, to seeing friends on a regular basis, and to having a schedule.
For some, Christmas has given them a taste of what a connection to God is like. Much like the Israelites in today’s reading, they now have a memory of what life could be like. The people of God recalled life before exile and they long to return to their homeland and to experience life under God’s loving care. Through Christmas, many people experience what life could be like. For many, Christmas this year was filled with God’s love and on Christmas Eve they experienced God’s presence as a tangible feeling. Perhaps this is you or someone you know. There is a deep call within each of us to connect to God and to experience life as He intended it to be.
In the high of Christmas we see what life should be like. We realize life has been less than it could be. But it does not have to be this way. Through Jesus Christ, God invites us all to order our lives as they should be, focusing on others instead of self, just as Jesus did. In this loving, giving, self-sacrificing model, we begin to experience life as it should be. Life lived to the full is a life of love for God that grows and overflows to become love for neighbor. May our love for God and neighbor be a light shining in the darkness this day, drawing others to the light and love of God, to love lived out.
Have you ever failed to recognize someone you know? Maybe you have been to family reunions every two years for many years now, but suddenly you see a cousin you do not recognize right away. You look and look at this stranger and then suddenly realize who it is, amazed at the change that has occurred in the last two years.
Or maybe you have experienced seeing someone in a new light. It could be hearing someone sing a beautiful song that you had previously never heard sing. Or it could be seeing your child demonstrate a ‘new’ skill or newfound maturity in a setting other than at home. You smile and nod your head and purposefuly file away the memory.
In our story today, Mary and Joseph discover Jesus is missing. After three days of frantic searching, they finally find him sitting in the temple. He is holding court with the temple priests. They are astounded by Jesus’ questions and His insights as they discuss God, faith, the Law, and so on. But Mary and Joseph see none of these things at this point. Their boy is found and in a sudden release of panic and fear, they scold Jesus for treating them this way. Instead of seeing Jesus sitting rightfully among these wise and learned men, they only see a misbehaving twelve-year-old. But all is not lost as at the end we read that later Mary treasures all of these things in her heart.
This story makes me ponder – do I too sometimes not see Jesus for who He really is? Do I want to keep Him boxed into something I think I know? Do I sometimes fail to extend the love that He has planted within me? Or… do I sometimes not see Jesus in the person standing right in front of me?
Yesterday we celebrated the gift of Jesus Christ to us and to our world. The psalm today celebrates all of God’s other gifts that we find in our world. God clothed creation in amazing beauty – from the stars, sun, and moon to the snow, frost, and rain. He also created much that is also beautiful. From the birds and animals to the mountains, trees, and flowers, we find much beauty in our world.
God created much with an amazing amount of diversity and creativity. We do not see just roses, but tulips and daffodils, and morning glories. We don’t just see red roses, but white and pink and… There is not just one type of mountainscape. Some are beautiful in their rugged splendor and others are pine-covered and inviting.
Today at my house it is very cold and windy and snowy. In a few months the grass and plants will burst forth with beautiful green and young birds will chirp. In just a few more months the hot sun will bring forth growth and the occasional thunderstorm to remind me of God’s power and might. And soon thereafter the leaves will turn a variety of yellows, reds, and oranges and cool evenings will return.
Today may we connect to the many incredible ways that God has created the earth and all that is in and on it. As we consider and marvel at the work of His hands, may we praise and thank our loving and amazing Creator God.
This day God becomes flesh to dwell among us. Our greatest gift this day is Jesus. No matter how big the best gift was under the tree or how much love was poured into a gift we got for Christmas, it cannot compare to the incarnation. In Jesus, our Emmanuel, we have God with us.
Wrapping the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes was the common practice of the time. It is still the common practice in many places. By wrapping the baby head to toe, it is kept warm and its delicate skin in protected. Being laid in a manger, maybe Jesus even needed a little extra protection. All one could see of the baby was their little face, gazing up at them.
In the culture of Jesus’ day and in many places still today, at the end of life the body is again wrapped in a cloth. This time it is called a shroud and it covers all of the body. The body is wrapped with fragrant spices and laid to rest in a protetcive little coccoon. The cycle is complete.
Tonight the communion will be covered by a cloth except when being served. The elements are representative of Jesus’ body and blood, so it is appropriate and respectful to cover them.
In our Christian walk, God’s love continually surrounds us much like the swaddling clothes do a baby. God wraps His love and protection around us as He walks through the ups, downs, and middles of life with us. As we walk we will stumble and we will sin. But God is present then too for His love never fails. In these moments we also receive His love and grace as well. They surround us too and make us new and clean and whole. Through Jesus’ work on the cross, we are forgiven and restored to walk again in God’s loving presence. Thank you Jesus.
Christmas cards are still a staple at Christmas time for many people. Stores sell tons of cards and many people make their own Christmas cards with pictures of their families on the front. Most of the cards have something to do with the Christ aspect of Christmas. The references can be through Bible verses or quotes, through using the many names of Jesus, or through the good news of peace, joy, love, and hope.
Christmas carols are another staple of the season and also do the same things to share Christmas and the spirit of the season. The ‘classics’ are a collective memory that we all share. It is a wonderful part of Christmas to joyously lift our voices in song to tell the good news. Sometimes we even go caroling to places like nursing homes and in our neighborhoods to share Christmas with others.
And, of course, Christmas services also draw us back to Christ as the center of Christmas. In our worship services we read the scriptures and also sing the songs. We use prayer and the proclaimed word as well to share the story of Christmas. Perhaps we share in communion. Tomorrow on Christmas Eve we also light the Christ candle and place it in the center of the Advent wreath, recognizing Jesus Christ as the center of our peace, joy, love, and hope.
Advent is also a time of personal study and reflection. We read a devotional book or use an Advent calendar to connect to the season in a deeper way. These personal practices have the same purpose as the corporate practices: to remind us of Jesus and what a gift He is to us and to all of humanity. Thanks be to God for this gift.
We are often concerned with what we wear. We like to look good or at least be presentable! If our hair is a little wild or our make-up a little smudged, we neaten it up a bit. Many will give themselves a quick once over in the mirror to make sure they can be seen in public.
In our reading from Colossians, we are also instructed to put on more than clothes each day. We are also called to put on compassion and kindness and humility. These traits help us to see others as God sees them and to treat all as worthy of God’s love and of our love. They help us to see the person and not their circumstances.
We are also called to put on gentleness and patience. These two traits help us to treat people as God would treat them. When we are gentle and patient we understand that some people require more time and attention than others and we are willing to offer this. They help us to invest both deeply and long term in others so we can build relationships.
And we are called to forgive as God forgives us. This encompasses two main components: there is no limit to how many times to forgive and it is a gift freely given with no strings attached. People who are in need often walk a hard path in life. It is easy to stumble along this path. Clothing ourselves with forgiveness allows us to give mercy and encouragement over and over and over. This shows we are in it for the long haul.
Lastly we are called to cover all of these traits in love. It binds the other traits together in the perfect unity of the love of Jesus Christ. This love of Christ must be what motivates all the others as well. We cannot be compassionate, kind, … without the love of Christ being the driving force. Without love the other traits will falter and fail. May we clothe ourselves well this day so that all we meet can see Jesus Christ within us and experience His love shining forth from inside of us.