The Key

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation, Because all things were created by him: both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible. Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him. He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him. He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything. Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him, and he reconciled all things to himself through him— whether things on earth or in the heavens. He brought peace through the blood of his cross. ~Col. 1:15-20 (CEB)

Christmas holds the key to unlocking the deepest mysteries of my life: Who am I, where did I come from, is there meaning to my life, and where am I going?

In Christmas rests the revelation of God’s self to humankind. Through Jesus’ birth I can now understand God in human terms. Because of Jesus I can make sense of my life and understand more fully who I am and where I am going.

If we were left with just the creation story and the sacred texts we might feel that God is distant, uncaring and unapproachable. But when Jesus appeared as the revealer of a divine God, God becomes nearer, more loving and approachable. Now we know that God understands us and that we can begin to understand God. The birth of Jesus allows an experience of God with us and within us.

The great mystery of God unfolds in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Now I know who I am- God’s beloved child; to whom I belong- my faithful redeemer; and where I am going in my journey of life- to a place prepared for me.

The wait is over… The nights are getting shorter…  Merry Christmas!

What a humbling thought O Lord, to think that You, the Creator of more than my limited vision can see, loves me and calls me His beloved child. Today I thank You for sending Jesus into the world to reveal to me Who You are. Without his example of Your love for me I might not be able to grasp how far, how wide, how high and how deep Your love for me really is. Thank You for the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. May I remain secure in my knowledge of Your love as go out into a hurting world. May I be a reflection of Your mighty love to everyone that I meet this day. Amen.

O little town

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. ~Luke 2:1-7 (CEB)

O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM

by, Phillip Brooks, Lewis H. Redner.

O little town of Bethlehem,

How still we see thee lie;

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,

The silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting light;

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,

And gather’d all above

While mortals sleep, the angels keep

Their watch of wond’ring love.

O morning stars together

Proclaim the holy birth

And praises sing to God the King

And peace to men on earth.

“No matter how often we sing them, the simple words and music of Phillip Brooks’ ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ transport us to that night in which the Christ child came to earth. Through a gentle, quiet tune and pictures made by words, we enter the time and place when God, transcendent and unfathomable, was born into human history- in a human way. In terms a human being could best understand.

As the carol proceeds, our words become a prayer. It is a prayer that asks for something incredible: that the miracle be reproduced, and that this time, the event not simply happened in history, but in us.” ~From Faith, the Yes of the Heart by Grace Adolphsen Brame

Peace on earth seems so far away sometimes Heavenly Father, I am thankful for the retelling of the Christmas story because it reminds me that You were willing to come down here with us on Earth. Although the world doesn’t seem peaceful and quiet, if I turn to You I can always find that peace that passes this present understanding. Amen.

One long night…

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger. ” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us. ” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told. ~Luke 2:8-20 (CEB)

Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy. Isn’t it? TV shows and commercials illustrate Christmas time as the … “most wonderful time of the year…” So if Christmas makes you blue… (now I have Evis singing in my head) or even flat out depressed it can be isolating in the sea of celebrations. It can leave some people gloomy finding the holidays anything but jolly, while still others will have experiences that make it difficult to be merry and bright.

When I think of the Advent story it seems to me to start out in the dark and cold, even in the midst of hopelessness. But it is also part of a bigger story of God’s grace waiting our discovery. It is a story of hope.

Sometimes the hype and clichés of the season distract us. The clever marketing ploys succeed in making us desire tangible things we can hold in our hands. Marketing gives us false illusions of how we can find happiness. However all the marketing efforts, hype and catchy logos cannot answer the deep questions of the heart, or address the pain that might reside there, explain the mystery of God’s presence, or even comprehend the meaning of our existence. It also does not help us to understand why bad things happen.

Advent can give us hope though in the midst of our isolation and false illusions because it tells us a story of how God humbled himself, intimately and personally through the birth of Jesus. Sometimes we blow off Advent as just another blip on the church calendar but it is meant to be something more. It is meant to lay a new path of faith for the new year ahead.

In the remembering and retelling of the magical story we are reminded that God loved us so much he allowed Jesus to come down here in the form of a fragile infant to be born in the lowliest of places. The retelling of the story is to remind me why Jesus came into the world in the first place, so that I might have life and live in the light.  I am reminded with the Advent story that God is a hands-on God willing to become vulnerable just so that I might catch a glimpse of how much He loves me. This story tells me that Jesus loved me so much that he came down to earth to be in the darkness with me and to walk with me as I search for the light.

Advent is meant to confront me once again with God’s unparalleled effort to communicate the message that I am embraced and held by a God of love. The Advent season is the time that I can shake off the failures, the victories and the sorrows of the past. I am given a new clean page. Again and again we see in the Bible that God is a God of second chances and the healer of broken hearts. Jesus Christ has come, is present with us, and will come again in final victory when all darkness, pain and evil will be no more.

Heavenly Father, it gives me great comfort to know that You are big enough to handle all my sorrow, all my questions and all my fear. I am thankful that You are a God who is willing to come down to earth and be with me where I am, even if the place You find me is darkness. Even in the darkness I am not hidden from You. I may be worried that I will put others off during this “happy season” with the questions and fears that are hidden in my heart, but I know that You will never turn from my sorrow. You will never brush off my questions. You will never be upset with me if I have the “wrong feelings” for the season. You simply tell me that feelings just are.  Dear Lord, I thank You for sitting with me here right now, waiting with me through this long night, reminding me that there is always a dawn. Amen.

The faith of my actions

I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth. God won’t let your foot slip. Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job. No! Israel’s protector never sleeps or rests! The LORD is your protector; the LORD is your shade right beside you. The sun won’t strike you during the day; neither will the moon at night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; God will protect your very life. The LORD will protect you on your journeys— whether going or coming— from now until forever from now. ~Psalm 121:1-8 (CEB)

There is no need to multiply examples of what is so patently and essential condition of the Christian walk. We are saved through faith – an unflagging, unwavering attachment to the person of Jesus Christ.

What is the depth and quality of your faith commitment? In the last analysis, faith is not a way of speaking or even of thinking; it is a way of living. Maurice Blondel said, ‘If you want to know what a person really believes. Don’t listen to what he says but watch what he does.’ Only the practice of faith can verify what we believe. Does faith permeate the whole of your life? Does it influence the way you read the newspaper? DO you have a divine sense of humor that sees through people and events into the unfolding plan of God? When things are turbulent on the surface of your life, do you retain a quiet calm, firmly fixed in ultimate reality? As Therese of Lisieux said, ‘Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God alone remains.’ Does faith shape your Advent season this year?” ~From Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning

Heavenly Father, as I wait, I pay attention, keeping my focus on You. Help me to see You in the little things so I can be bolstered for the big. Help me be ever watchful as I wait for Your plans to unfold. Hold my hand in the dark moments as I look to the light of this season. Amen.

Truly to trust

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. ~Jer 29:11-12

I have a dark secret. I worry about my children. Sometimes it is that deep dark crippling kind of worry where I find that the air has stopped flowing through my lungs. God has recently confronted me about these fears I have for my children.

I have embraced God’s promises and I know that He will take care of me and provide for me. I know deep in my heart that there is nothing that can separate me from God’s love and that He will take care of me. But do I have enough faith in God to think the same things for my children? Apparently not. I so worry about the hurts my children have sustained. I worry over the choices that they make. I can see the long term effects cut deep into them and how it could follow them through life.

God asked me one day. Do you not think that my promises are for your children too? Do you not think that I can use all of these things, their hurts and choices for their future? Do you not believe that I can use all these things for their good?

Despite the choices that my children make, despite the hurts they incur, God is holding them in His hands just like he has me in His hands. God has used all my pain and suffering and turned it into glory for Him. He will do the same for my children. That doesn’t absolve me of training them in the way they are to go but it does release me of the control and give control to God.

Heavenly Father, again I turn my children over to you. Protect their hearts, lead them in the way they are to go. I know that You will use all things to their ultimate good. I know that it will all be for Your glory. I trust that You love my children even more than I do. Amen.

 

He will wipe away the tears

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~Rev. 21:4 (CEB)

“Christmas is the promise that the God who came in history and comes daily in mystery will one day come in glory. God is saying in Jesus that in the end everything will be all right. Nothing can harm you permanently, no suffering is irrevocable, no loss is lasting, no defeat is more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Jesus did not deny the reality of suffering, discouragement, disappointment, frustration, and death; he simply stated that the Kingdom of God would conquer all of these horrors, that the Father’s love is so prodigal that no evil could possibly resist it.” ~ From Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning

During a time of waiting it is important to hold on to the reality that every trial is just a moment on this journey. Some moments are longer than others. Some more painful than others. But in waiting I have that peace that passes all understanding that should not be mistaken for living in denial. It is a confidence that God hears me when I pray and that eventually God’s Kingdom will come and this too will be just a moment.

Heavenly Father, through Your Word I know that a time will finally come where death will be conquered and our tears will be dried. The struggles I have will pass. I have Hope where once there was darkness and the confidence that all will be made right through You. Amen.

An abundant God

They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one mind so that they may worship me all the days of their lives, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to stop treating them graciously. I will put into their hearts a sense of awe for me so that they won’t turn away from me. I will rejoice in treating them graciously, and I will plant them in this land faithfully and with all my heart and being. ~Jer. 32:38-41 (CEB)

“God’s apparent lack of restraint when it comes to creating things is but a symptom of a deeper” problem”: God lacks restraint when it comes to loving, too. In fact, God is most unrestrained when it comes to loving. Put another way, God cannot love except abundantly.

We see this abundance of God’s love demonstrated throughout [Hebrew Scriptures]. The Chosen People turn away from God again and again. What does God do? Does God throw up his divine hands in disgust and cry, ‘Enough already!’ and zap those Israelites into kingdom come? No, God continues to love them, taking them back again and again and again. There seems to be no end to God’s love. There is no end to God’s love.” ~From Abundant Treasures by Melannie Svoboda

From beginning to end, God has only wanted one thing from us, a relationship. This theme runs throughout the Bible. God is a God of relationships. That is why He sent His son into the world to physically show us how to have a relationship with Him. During Advent I always marvel how He chose to come into the world: as a defenseless tiny infant, completely dependent on the humans around Him.

Heavenly Father, you are a God of relationships. You came into the world to model how we are to have a relationship with You and Your children. Help me today to remember those around me, help me foster relationships with them so that Your Kingdom can be realized here and now. Amen.

Wholeness and Purpose

I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it. So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me.  I gladly agree with the Law on the inside, but I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body.  I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?  Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I’m a slave to God’s Law in my mind, but I’m a slave to sin’s law in my body. ~Romans 7:18-25 (CEB)

Life is not a game I can win, and God is not a trophy I earn. No matter how “good” I am, I am not good enough for God. On the other hand, no matter how “bad” I am, I can never be outside of God. I can only hope in each thing I face to hold such a consciousness of God that no lesser gods can capture my attention nor can my self centeredness keep me away from the awareness that is the fullness of Life. It is the goal of life to come to a Wholeness, to experience a Purpose beyond all purposes, to come to the identification that my strength is Him.

Heavenly Father, help me with the ever present war that wages inside. Help me to come to a Wholeness and to experience a Purpose beyond all purposes. Help me to not be self-centered this day forgetting that it is You from which my strength comes from. Amen.

Open hearts, open doors, open minds

But, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the Law; if you brag about your relationship to God; if you know the will of God; if you are taught by the Law so that you can figure out the things that really matter; if you have persuaded yourself that you are: a guide for the blind; a light to those who are in darkness; an educator of the foolish; a teacher of infants (since you have the full content of knowledge and truth in the Law); then why don’t you who are teaching others teach yourself? If you preach, “No stealing,” do you steal? If you say, “No adultery,” do you commit adultery? If you hate idols, do you rob temples? If you brag about the Law, do you shame God by breaking the Law? As it is written: The name of God is discredited by the Gentiles because of you. Circumcision is an advantage if you do what the Law says. But if you are a person who breaks the Law, your status of being circumcised has changed into not being circumcised. So if the person who isn’t circumcised keeps the Law, won’t his status of not being circumcised be counted as if he were circumcised? The one who isn’t physically circumcised but keeps the Law will judge you. You became a lawbreaker after you had the written Law and circumcision.  It isn’t the Jew who maintains outward appearances who will receive praise from God, and it isn’t people who are outwardly circumcised on their bodies. Instead, it is the person who is a Jew inside, who is circumcised in spirit, not literally. That person’s praise doesn’t come from people but from God. ~Rom 2:17-29 (CEB)

Often when I read verses like these it is easy to skim over them feeling that they do not apply to me since it is written to the Jews in the 1st century Rome. But, if I imagine Paul here today would he say the same things to us Christians?

You may know little Christian/Jewish history so you may not know that the Jews pretty much felt that all Gentiles were only good to fuel the fires of Hell. Also you may not realize that the Gentiles had no respect for the Jews. During New Testament times observing the Sabbath was viewed as pure laziness. Also the Jews received extraordinary privileges from the Roman government because they were Jew. Jews were also accused of atheism because Jews believed that God alone was God. Not only did they not worship the gods of the Gentiles but reverence also was not paid to kings, or honor to the Caesars (Which was a national religion for Roman territories). What really moved the Gentiles to such dislike of the Jews was the fact that Jews had great contempt toward all other religions. Finally, the last straw, was that Jews were accused of hatred of their neighbors and complete unsociability. It was said that if a Jew were asked directions to a place, he would refuse to give any information except to another Jew and, if anyone was looking for a well from which to drink, a Jew would not lead him to it unless he was circumcised.

It is simply true that the Jews did bring disgrace to God’s name by shutting themselves into a rigid community from which all others were shut out and because they showed such an attitude of contempt towards the Gentiles and a lack of charity for their needs. But what of Christianity? Are we ever accused of rigid views, strange practices, eliteness?

Real religion involves having an open heart and an open door and an open mind.

Heavenly Father, may my heart be open to others who are different to me. May actions of love point them to You. Help me to remember this day that the only Jesus some people may see is through me. Help me to be Your hands and feet in the world. Amen.

A new day

The LORD your redeemer, the holy one of Israel, says, For your sake, I have sent an army to Babylon, and brought down all the bars, turning the Chaldeans’ singing into a lament. I am the LORD, your holy one, Israel’s creator, your king! The LORD says— who makes a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and battalion; they will lie down together and will not rise; they will be extinguished, extinguished like a wick. Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. The beasts of the field, the jackals and ostriches, will honor me, because I have put water in the desert and streams in the wilderness to give water to my people, my chosen ones, this people whom I formed for myself, who will recount my praise. ~Isaiah 43:14-21 (CEB)

Every day we are given the chance to start anew. New beginnings are available all the time. There also is always the opportunity for a new beginning in our relationship with God. God is infinite so there is the unlimited possibility for growth and starting anew. No matter how intimate our relationship with Jesus Christ is there is always room for growth and new beginnings. The changes He is calling us to might be slight or it might be radical.

Heavenly Father, show me how You want me to grow this day, what new levels in our relationship are you stretching me to. Give me the strength and courage to rise up to the changes You are calling me to make today. Amen

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