Again today we hear Jesus using a parable to communicate a central truth about life. In this instance he sounds a bit frustrated with his listeners, seeing in them a tendency to listen to his words, but then fail to go out and put them into practice. (Sound familiar? I see this phenomenon every time I look into the mirror!)
But being the wise teacher he is, Jesus paints a vivid word picture to help make his point… the picture of two men building houses on different kinds of foundations. I once heard a famous preacher say that the reason we so often find Jesus employing parables in his teaching and ministry is because he knows he cannot “chew our food for us.” (a vivid word picture in its own right!) Jesus’ use of parables recognizes a basic human reality; that unless you and I do the necessary “grunt work” of taking an insight and planting it deeply into our own hearts and souls, it is just another abstract idea floating around in our heads with all the other abstract ideas. A parable or “word picture” that we have to mull, and scratch our heads over has a much greater chance of sticking with us and ultimately affecting the way we live than something handed to us, complete and unvarnished.
And in today’s parable we find that the “medium” (i.e. the parable) is indeed the message, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan. One of the points of this parable seems to be that while God provides us with the necessary components with which to build a solid life, you and I still have to do the necessary construction work. And right off the bat we have to choose a solid foundation, or everything else will fall flat.
As you enter the new year ahead I pray for a new awareness of the amazing building supplies that God has provided in the form of God’s word in scripture, the daily practice of prayer, and the presence of a worshipping community. And may we each be able to take those supplies and place them on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. Then no matter what kinds of storms might come our way during 2009 – and they will come – our “house” will stand firm.
Many blessings and a Happy New Year to you.
– Pastor Russell
The scripture passage for today is amazingly rich. The language describing the whole creation responding as if giving birth to a child is vivid and paints a picture of what it might be like to yearn for God’s presence more fully in our lives. This description reminds me what it is like to be on the journey of becoming a deeply committed Christian.
I believe that the Holy Spirit does pray on our behalf even when we don’t know the words or even what to expect. As I look toward 2009, I anticipate that there will be times when I will have no idea what is coming next in a particular situation. I am encouraged by this passage that no matter what may come, God is with me and the Holy Spirit prays on my behalf. This is true in times that are good, bad, uncertain, difficult, joyous and any other way that we may be feeling.
During the holiday gatherings, without fail, I hear a new story about my parents’ childhood experiences or about something strange a distant cousin did and will always be remembered for. I love hearing about my grandparents’ lives long before I was a part of the family and I know one day I will tell these stories to a new generation. Our family narratives are a big part of teaching the next generation who we are and where we have come from. Have you heard any good stories in the last few days?
Galatians 4:3-7 tells us that the Christmas story is also our story. Jesus born to the virgin Mary. We tell it again and again, year after year, because it defines us. Like family stories, the story of Jesus teaches us who we are and where we have come from. We are adopted into God’s family, incorporated into a greater family that has nothing to do with the time and place of our physical birth. Our adoption is a gift—we are chosen and invited into God’s household—and we are heirs to the salvation and redemption made possible by the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.
– Rev. Molly Simpson
Today we read the final act of the Christmas story…the story of the Magi. The Magi were a highly-educated, priestly class of Persian or Babylonian astrologers. They were highly respected, wealthy citizens. They traveled to Jerusalem from the East taking a two-year journey.
Why did these strangers make such a long and perilous journey? Something had to be so important and so powerful that drew them far from their home. They began this journey wanting to worship this new king and they went in faith. They did not know what was coming, or exactly where they are going, but they go.
In their journey, the Magi were guided by a star and once they reached Jerusalem, they met Herod. When the Magi said they wanted to worship the new king, the king of the Jews, Herod was threatened. Even in the midst of Herod’s ill intentions, the Magi were still guided to the right place.
Like the Wise men on their journey, we go on a journey. It is our journey of following Christ. We navigate our lives to see, worship, and follow the Christ child. Each day may we know that we are on a journey, like the Wise Men, of following Christ.
– Rev. Nicole Conard
What do you “ponder?”
Every Christmas Eve my grandmother read today’s text from Luke. This version of the Christmas story gives us the invitation to ponder. Actually, it is Mary who gives us the invitation.
Ponder these possibilities: The world was in a state of chaos with everyone scurrying in response to the census. Here was Mary, a young teenager, pregnant and probably scared beyond words. Suddenly she is facing the major life changes of birth, marriage and moving—and not in the proper order! And here she was, due to give birth any day and being dragged on a donkey to Bethlehem. Exhausting! Ponder how that must have felt. Does it make your back hurt or cause you some anxiety?
Yet the song of the angels and their message breaks into the starry night. We see the cold, yet poor and peaceful shepherds tending their flocks. The scriptures conveniently skip over the birth to let us peek in on the tiny baby, mother and father. The stillness of the scene is powerful.
Ponder: This child, who came to save us all, had this common yet so uncommon beginning. These scriptures invite us to stillness, peace, simplicity, wonder and awe. I would invite you to read this scripture to your family today.
Invite them to ponder.
– Rev. Karen Lampe
The gospels of Matthew and Luke tell the birth story of Jesus from two different vantage points. Luke’s narrative is written from Mary’s perspective, Matthew from Joseph’s. Joseph is one of the underrated characters in the Jesus story. In the history of the church Mary receives much adulation, prayers, petitions and even worship. Joseph gets the occasional hospital and some children’s aspirin named after him!
We read that Joseph was “pledged to Mary,” a Jewish rite of pre-marriage which was far more binding than our concept of engagement. Upon learning of young Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph seeks to protect her while making plans to “divorce her quietly.” Joseph’s compassion and integrity shine through the text. One can only imagine his internal strife and heartache. (Joseph was a righteous dude) Into his grief comes the angel of the Lord with the disquieting words: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
The birth narratives of Jesus push our credulity to the limits. Nothing in these stories is familiar to the characters nor to us, because nothing like this had ever happened before or since. These events are unique in the history of mankind. We sometimes chide the Bible characters for what appears to be their slowness to believe. When witnessing events without precedence, one should be offered a boatload of grace. Joseph offered his hopes, his reputation and dreams to God in quiet confidence that his life was ultimately not his own. Should we be disturbed in the night by visions costing us our peace? May we be found like Joseph, trusting.
– Rev. Jeff Kirby
For years, Zechariah plugs away, serving God faithfully, dutifully and uneventfully. Life had not turned out the way he and his wife had expected or desired, but they make the most of it, leading blameless, upstanding lives. It wasn’t until he is an older man that God breaks into his life dramatically, sharing an unbelievable vision of the future. Reacting with incredulity, God’s angel strikes Zechariah mute for the better part of a year.
When Elizabeth gives birth to John, Zechariah finally gets it. He not only believes in God’s action, but is so excited that he breaks into an amazing, prophetic song. After decades of serving God, he finally sees the work of God’s hand, sees that God is present on earth like never before and the salvation they have hoped for is finally at hand.
Sometimes, even though we serve faithfully, spend time in prayer, scripture study and works of compassion, we still feel like there’s something missing – a spark, something that excites us, a glimpse of God. One of the hardest qualities of faithfulness is patience, performing our duty even without immediate satisfaction. Are you willing to work for a long time, maybe even decades like Zechariah, while still expecting God’s intervention at any moment?
– Rev. Dagney Pullin
It is almost Christmas. This powerful and poetic passage offers prophetic praise. Christmas joy began with Mary as she proclaimed: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.”
Mary continues in her Song, also known as the Magnificat, as she praises God for the faithfulness in the past, present and future salvation story. E. Stanley Jones said that the Magnificat is the most revolutionary document in the world.
This Christmas we might thank God for the ways in which God can use us to be a blessing to others. Like Mary, can we accept the favor that God offers us so that we can love others? God can use us to change our world!
Can you by faith accept that God is blessing you so you can be a blessing to others? Mary did. Can you by faith accept that God could use you just as you are to offer hope to others? Mary did. Can you by faith accept your humble role to be used for great things which result in God’s glory? Mary did. Can you by faith live a faithful life? Mary did.
Yes, it is almost Christmas. God blessed Mary with the gift of Jesus, the greatest gift ever given to humankind. God blesses each of us at The Church of the Resurrection to reach out to others in mission.
Our God is a giving God. Our God is a generous God. As we accept the gift of Christ at Christmas, let us, like Mary, be generous with our faith and love as we worship and magnify the Lord. Amen.
– Rev. Dr. Clayton Smith
Think of someone you know that you would describe as a servant. How do they do to bless others and what is their motivation?
I think about a couple that spend most of their free hours caring for others—they support their adult children through difficult times, they collect and deliver donated goods to nonprofit organizations all over the city, they volunteer in missions, student ministry, and on our setup crew and they give both time and financial resources to make a difference in our community. They find joy in following Christ and serving as he did.
There are several passages in Isaiah known as servant songs—and they extol the faithful action of a servant, either a particular person or the personification of the nation of Israel. Reading these passages, we also hear the story of Jesus Christ, the ultimate servant. He was entirely faithful in his words and actions.
Notice the way that the servant in Isaiah 50 continually invokes “the Sovereign Lord.” The servant is able to learn, listen, obey, endure and ultimately triumph not because of his own desires, but because he is faithful to God and he calls upon the Sovereign Lord for help.
To be a servant, you have to reorient your life—God becomes the center. This is difficult stuff. It doesn’t happen instantaneously upon becoming a follower of Jesus but through the ongoing transformation that God works in us. Let’s pray together that God would help us to be faithful.
– Rev. Molly Simpson
Astonished is a word used often in the Old and New Testaments. It often refers to a sense of wonder and surprise, of being met by the unexpected. In Luke 2: 48 Mary and Joseph are astonished to find Jesus in the Temple with the Elders. The family had come to Jerusalem for the annual Passover feast. Thinking Jesus was with other members and friends of the family, they traveled a day’s journey before they missed him. Returning quickly (I’m sure) to Jerusalem they looked for him three days before finding him in the Temple. There he was having conversation with the learned men of Judaism. Apparently he was holding his own in the discussions since they had been talking for three days.
It is in this Advent Season that we are astonished, surprised, and feel a sense of wonder at being met by the unexpected. We marvel that God would send his Son into the world. It is even more astonishing that Jesus came and the world has not been the same since. Have you wondered what kind of world we would have today had Jesus not come? Think for a moment what December would mean to us if those angels had not sung that night outside of Bethlehem.
In Bethlehem I have visited the birth place of Jesus many times. It is always a moving moment to read the scriptures, light the candles, sing the carols and pray in that spot.
Tears are shed, people hug one another and joy is evident. Truly it is astonishing to make such a visit. You can expect the unexpected as you stand in that holy place.
As we prepare for Christmas, my prayer is that we are astonished, surprised, a sense of wonder and being met by the unexpected.
– Rev. Bill Stephens