What Difference Does Christmas Make?

December 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

The difference that Christmas makes all depends on what you see when you look in the manger.  Do you only see a sweet little baby that fits the romanticized picture of a consumerist Christmas?  Titus 2:11 sees in the manger “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”  And the appearance of this grace that saves makes all the difference, because “it teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” (2:12-13).  We celebrate Christmas as a people who know we are living between two appearances.  The appearance in the manger is a glimpse of God’s reality of grace and salvation, and it leads us into a journey of following Jesus until He appears again.  A life of following Jesus is the only legitimate outcome of our Christmas celebrations.  How will His appearance be reflected in your life and mine after the Christmas trees are packed away again?  That is the crucial question.

We Will Not Keep Silent

December 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Based on Psalm 96, Walter Brueggemann prayed this beautiful prayer in his Psalms class on January 20, 1999:

We are people who must sing you, for the sake of our very lives.  You are a God who must be sung by us, for the sake of your majesty and honor.  And so we thank you, for lyrics that push us past our reasons, for melodies that break open our givens, for cadences that locate us home, beyond all our safe places, for tones and tunes that open our lives beyond control and our futures beyond despair.  We thank you for the long parade of mothers and fathers who have sung you deep and true; We thank you for the good company of artists, poets, musicians, cantors, and instruments that sing for us and with us, toward you.  We are witnesses to your mercy and splendor; We will not keep silent… ever again.  Amen.

Familiar or Fresh?

December 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

We are in those familiar times again.  The times of family and feasts.  It is a time ruled by customs and traditions.  We usually like Christmas the way we’ve done it before.  And yet, there is nothing familiar about the birth story in Luke 2:1-20.  As David Lose writes somewhere, “it’s a story that should not even have been noticed, let alone told again and again across millennium.”  After all, countless girls gave birth that evening.  Luke tells the story in an almost ironic way.  The point is exactly that this apparent insignificant happening somewhere around a manger takes place in the midst of the grand schemes of the politics of emperors and governors (2:1-3).  Against the power plays of life’s so-called “big stories” stands the vulnerability of a pregnant teenage girl.  And the irony is that it is the latter that would change the course of history in the most revolutionary way possible.  The Christmas story only breaks through its familiarity with new freshness if this core dynamic of Jesus’ birth is embodied in our lives.  God with us among the lowly and in the midst of apparent insignificant circumstances is exactly what Christmas is about.  How does this play out in your life this Christmas, and where else do you see Christ this Christmas?

Inbreaking of God’s Power

December 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Isaiah 9:2-7 tells the powerful story of God’s inbreaking into our world.  It is perhaps best illustrated by the contrasting image right at the beginning:  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (9:2).  Light in darkness – that is how powerful the inbreaking of God is.  The light unmask and reveal the darkness for what it is, namely a false and powerless illusion claiming authority in our lives.  We often confuse the darkness with the light.  We think that success, productivity, dominance, and self-reliance are all values of the light.  But they are actually projecting the opposite of God’s powerful light.  God revealed His power through significance not success; through relationships not productivity; through serving not dominance; through self-sacrifice rather than self-reliance.  In his ministry to follow, the born Child would frequently turn all these illusions on their heads by proclaiming opposite values.  Joy will be ours if we believe what Christ taught us and are willing to take the risk of living accordingly.

Purpose of the Gospel

December 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Paul ends his letter to the Romans with a doxology (Romans 16:25-27):  “To the only wise God be glory for ever through Jesus Christ!” (16:27).  As is the case with doxologies, Paul brings glory to God in a way that frames everything that has gone before in the letter (admonitions, prayers, thanksgivings, etc.).  A doxology names the source of all blessings, of the good news of the gospel.  However, Paul’s doxology at the end of this letter includes more than just naming the source of the Gospel.  It also names the purpose of the Gospel.  Anyone who sings this doxology has to “go tell it on the mountain” (to quote the familiar Advent/Christmas song).  Because the purpose of the Gospel is “so that all nations might believe and obey him” (16:26).  The Christmas message is indeed God’s revelation of “the mystery hidden” (16:25).  Those who celebrate Christmas do so as people who have discovered God’s hidden mystery in Jesus Christ.  Now it is our responsibility to proclaim that message wherever we go today!

Faithfulness

December 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

At the heart of Psalm 89 is God’s faithfulness.  The introductory four verses set the tone:  “I will sing of the Lord’s great love for ever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.  I will declare that your love stands firm for ever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself” (89:1-2).  The Advent season is about waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of faithfulness in the midst of so many signs and examples of unfaithfulness in the world.  The Christmas message is that God kept his word, and that His word became flesh among us to establish His trustworthiness for ever.  We all need to be loved… the kind of love that gives us security and that would not depend on changing circumstances or moods.  We all need somebody to believe in us, to have faith in us… the kind of faith that can be fully trusted and won’t disappoint us.  Only God can love us and be faithful to us in that way.  May His love and faithfulness inspire us this Christmas season to embrace our love for others and to re-establish our faithfulness to others.

A Sanitized Christmas?

December 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

Based on Luke 1:26-38, Mike Slaughter writes, “It is easy to sanitize the birth event because we approach the story of the incarnation already knowing the end.  It’s kind of like missing the experience of a good book or movie because your friend already told you how it turns out.  Therefore, we have to understand the Immanuel event in the context of what Mary was experiencing at that moment.  Miracles never happen outside the context of mystery and mess.  The miracle of the incarnation was no exception; however, it begins with the assurance of the angel’s promise:  ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you’ (Luke 1:28).  The first premise of faith – knowing that God is with you, that you are favored, and that God is the pursuer in the relationship, regardless the circumstances – begins right here.”  It is important to notice that Mary was favored, not perfect.  And that the birth of Jesus happened in the midst of very messy circumstances to say the least.  Messiness is the soil for God’s miracles.  He always shows up in surprising ways and in unexpected places.  That will also be true today about your life and mine.  We are not perfect, but because we are favored, we can anticipate God to do surprising things in the midst of our own messy circumstances.

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