Merry Christmas…

“When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.
Luke 2:15,16 (NLT)

The last 24hrs have been a little crazy for me. I came home from a dinner with my parents and a friend of ours, and found that my stomach was a little off. Then the violent illness began. Food poisoning. On the night before Christmas Eve.

But like those Who’s down in Whoville discovered, I found that Christmas Eve came anyway. Sure, 24hrs ago I couldn’t have imagined making it through the set up and leading of two services (I tapped out before the third one!), but now I have done just that.

The day didn’t go as I had planned when I thought about it in the weeks leading up to tonight. But it went. The set up got done, the people gathered, the story was told in word and song and deed. And I like to think – I hope – that it touched the hearts of those who gathered at 44 Church St. E. this evening.

I like the Shepherd’s impulse: let’s go and see this thing that the Lord has told us about.  Because the Good News was too GOOD to miss. They had to go, they had to be there. Despite all that the night had taken out of them, they just had to BE THERE.

It was good to be with those of you who were at the 4pm and the 7:30pm services. I couldn’t stay away, and I’m so very glad I didn’t.

On this night, and on every night, may you know the Good News. May you experience what it is to BE THERE as God does something beautiful. May you come and see the Messiah, and may you be forever changed.

 

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Joyous sound…

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:13-14‬ ‭(NLT)

What a joyous sound it must have been! Think of some of the most amazing musical experiences you’ve ever had – those moments when you were at a concert and the fine hairs of your arms raised up and you felt the music thrum deep in your soul – and then multiply that to the power of 10. Maybe we’re starting to get close. 

It would have been like nothing these humble workers had ever heard before. Unlike anything they’d ever hear again – at least in this life. 

Because this was Heaven declaring the birth of the Messiah. There had never been a night like this before!

Now what had been broken in the world for so very long – the relationship between Creator and created – had it’s remedy. That is what the birth of Jesus meant. 

Of course it was a joyful noise – it was hope, peace, joy and love, for all people in all times and places. It was the new thing that God had promised for so long. It was the answer to the cry of the human heart that longs for reconciliation with the One who spoke humanity into being. 

This Advent, may you know the joy of being reconciled to God through Jesus. May you rejoice anew at this wonderful thing that God has done for us. And may you hear an echo of that joyous song of the first Christmas. 

A strange sign…

“The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:11-12‬ (‭NLT‬‬)

It must have seemed odd to the shepherds. There they were, surrounded by the host of angels, being told that the long-prophesied Messiah was finally here. Surely he would have arrived in state. Surely he should have been found in a court, or a beautiful house, or at the very least a respectable inn. 

But no, the angels told them they would find the baby, wrapped in stops of cloth and lying in a manger. 

That was the sign that would let them know THIS was the child, this was the Messiah, the LORD. 

What an odd sign, what a strange proclamation. 

The carol says it best: “Why lies he in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?” 

Because this child, this Messiah, this Lord, was – from the very beginning – about sacrifice. About choosing the hard road, so that others wouldn’t have to. About forfeiting his glory (that is, his Heavenly state) to win glory (that is, eternal life) for those who didn’t even deserve it (that is, you and I).  

So, no court or house or inn for him. Instead, a lowly manger. A place where the poor shepherds would fit in. A place where the least could come to worship him. A place rude and bare, but fit for Jesus who humbled himself for us. 

This Advent, may you see the beauty in the strange signs of His birth. May you know the Messiah who comes in humility, from his very first breath. And may you be blessed. 

The least…

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:8-10‬ (‭NLT‬‬)

The message the angels brought wasn’t  just to certain poor shepherds. It was for all people – to bring them great joy. 

It’s beautiful that this message came from the highest – the very court of Heaven – to the lowest – the shepherds in the fields outside the city. Minding their sheep in the middle of the night. Poor men who wouldn’t be welcome in the high courts of their own country. 

This tells us something about who God is. God is One who likes to take the unexpected route. When the birth of God’s is announced it’s announced to the least of society. When the resurrection happens, it is first witnessed by women who must take the Good News to the doubting and disheartened disciples. 

God likes to work with the least and the lowest to accomplish his plans. I love that, because it makes the point that in God’s eyes the lowest and the least have a part to play – and a crucial part at that. In God’s eyes the labels pasted on us by others don’t count for much. In God’s eyes, it’s where your heart is at that matters. God requires a believing heart and a willing spirit and not a whole lot else. 

So this Advent may you know that however humble your station in life might be, God has a part for you to play. May you see others with the eyes of God – looking at their heart rather than their position. And may you know the Good News of great joy that was (and is) for ALL the people. 

For real…

“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:6-7‬ (‭NLT‬‬)

Since my first trip to Israel (which took place during the first week of Advent in 2013), I have continually been amazed at the experience of reading the scriptures and thinking, “Hey! I’ve been to that place.” 

It comes upon me suddenly and unexpectedly.  I’ll be reading a passage as I prepare to teach about it in Bible study, or write a sermon on it, or write a blog about it…and suddenly my breath catches in my throat and tears burn in my eyes. And with great wonder, I remember what it was to BE THERE. Right there – in the place where this part of the story happened. 

This very thing happened to me as I looked up the next couple of verses in Luke’s Gospel for this evening’s blog. It’s the word “manger” that got me. You see, in North America, the mangers in our nativity pageants and on our Christmas cards are wood affairs filled with hay. And our stables are also made of wood. 

But Israel is a land of stone. The animals would have been kept in a grotto – a small cave. And indeed, when you travel to Bethlehem and walk through the Church of the Nativity and decend the stairs, you descend  to the Grotto of the Manger. The place where Jesus was born. 

It wasn’t a wooden stable or a wooden feeding trough, it was stone. Because the birth of the Savoir took place in Bethlehem in Judea, in ancient Israel. A real time. A real place – one you can travel to, even now – and a real birth. 

This isn’t some strange myth that happened in an imaginary land. This is the true story of God coming among us. Here. On Earth. 

For real. 

This Advent, may you know that the story isn’t imagined. May you know that the saviour isn’t a fantasy. That God’s love for you isn’t made up. It is all true. And it is all real. And it happened here. 

Advent Sunday of Love…

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:1-5‬ (‭NLT‬‬)

Today is the Advent Sunday of Love. Our journey through this season is drawing to an end. A few more steps, a few more days and the celebration will be upon us. 

But for now, we continue our journey as we remember the journey that Joseph and Mary took. From Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, the city of David. 

Mary and Joseph travelled because a census was being taken and they had to go to Joseph’s home town in order to be counted. That was the reason they had for taking their journey. But we know that the real reason was that God had decided that Bethlehem would be the pace where Love would put on flesh and bone and become one of us. The prophets foretold it.

And so they travelled. Because the world needed Love. Not in some sentimental or schmaltzy way. The world needed the pure, unspoiled love of God to become human. To be one of us so that we could know him. So that He could teach and heal and save us. So that, putting our trust in Him, we could live with him forever. 

This Advent, may you know that Love came down at Christmas. May you know that Love crossed the universe for you. And may you trust in the Love that came to save us all. 

Quiet strength…

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:38‬ (‭NLT‬‬)

When I was younger, a friend of mine told me she couldn’t stand Mary. She thought Mary was weak – just another woman pushed around by the men in her world. Made to serve. Made to bear a child that wasn’t of her choice. 

But I saw it differently. Mary made her choice. She loved God and she loved the child God entrusted to her. She chose to serve because that’s what love does. 

I saw in Mary an incredible strength – maybe quietly expressed, but incredible nonetheless. 

Told unbelievable things by a Heavenly messenger, Mary chooses to declare that she serves God, and asks that it all might happen just as the angel said. That takes strength. That takes faith. That takes love. 

This Advent, may you choose to serve God with great love and quiet strength. And in doing so, may you find that God’s way is the best way. 

New life happens…

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail. ”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:34-37‬ ‭(NLT)

When God gets involved in our world new life happens. God speaks into the dark void, and the land begins to form, the heavens and the waters separate, plants and animals come into being. 

When the power of the Most High overshadows Mary, Jesus is conceived. Her cousin Elizabeth grows pregnant with a son. 

New life happens. 

The same thing takes place inside of us when we draw near to God – hopes and dreams are conceived. Courage to try what we never thought we couldn’t handle grows within. Generosity blooms and spills out to bless others. Relationships long abandoned are healed and reconciled. 

For our God is always doing a new thing. Always bringing new life into existence. 

This Advent, may you draw close to God. May new things happen in you and spill out to bless others. May you experience the joy of all this. 

Wordless Wednesday…

An image for this Wordless Wednesday in this season of waiting.

 (It is a Wordless Wednesday simply because I feel Wordless and today happens to be Wednesday! When I am Wordless, I tend to get by wth a little help from other writers, and Fredrick Beuchner has always been an extraordinary writer. So take some time to contemplate this as we continue our Advent journey.)

Joyful message…

“Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:29-33‬ (‭NLT‬‬)

The angel’s message must have come as quite a shock, but also quite a joy to Mary. After all, what mother doesn’t have high hopes for her child? And to be told from the beginning that her son would be unique – would be the Son of the Most High whose kingdom would never end. 

What a joy! What a wonderful piece of news. What a beautiful message to receive. 

And here we are, more than two thousand years later. Still telling the story. Still trying to get our heads around what it must have been like for her, what she must have felt and thought. 

Indeed, his Kingdom has not ended. His name is still above every name. He is still ruling over the faithful – bringing us freedom and  forgiveness and new life. What a joy to know this story. What a joy to hear it told again. What a joy to enter into its mystery and wonder and awe. 

This Advent, may you know the joy of this infant King who rules through eternity. May you be awed but the circumstances that surround his birth. May the message bring you new insights, fresh delight and abundant life.