Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas: REMIND GOD, says the Lord

Isaiah 62:6-12

Titus 3:4-7

Luke 2:1-20

The tension of present and future, already but not yet, is central to the Judaeo-Christian understanding of salvation. Yes we are saved, but not yet. Come Lord and save your people.

Isaiah’s sentinels on the wall and Luke’s shepherds are watchmen. Watching can become a passive waiting to respond, but Isaiah adds an active dimension. Listen: Isaiah says, “I have posted sentinels; all day and night they shall never be silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest, and give Him no rest until He establishes Jerusalem and makes it renowned through all the earth.”

The Hebrew Zakar (zach hair)= REMEMBER is vital for understanding the salvation. When God remembers He saves, beginning with Genesis. 8:1 God remembers Noah and saves the inhabitants of the ark. 9:15-16 God says He will remember His covenant with the earth when He sees the rainbow. 19:29 God remembers Abraham and saves Lot. 30:22 He remembers Rachel and opens her womb to have a child. In the great salvation event of Israel’s history, Exodus 2:24 God hears the groaning of Israel and remembers His promises Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In 6:5 He tells Moses. I remember my covenant, tell the people I come to set them free.

Leviticus 26 spells out the tragic relationship of God and His people. If you are faithful, God says, I will bless you with health and abundance, my shalom will be with you. But if you reject me, and disobey me, you will suffer the consequences. Exile and oppression. YHWH says, there will be some who repent and return to the Lord. I will never reject or spurn them, I will never destroy them and annul my covenant. I will remember my covenant and remember the land, says the Lord.

The Words of Isaiah are spoken after the exile God warned them about, as the return to the land. But the promise of salvation is not fully realized. Israel’s salvation is incomplete.

This is the context for understanding the birth of Jesus. The Father remembers His promise and sends the Son is Jesus! “Glory to God in High Heaven and shalom upon those who belong to God on the earth,’’ sing the angels. But violence and conflict continues in our world, in families, and within our hearts. It is fair to ask, “What did the birth of that baby change?” Even the church is imperfect and sinful, right?

What if the Christian vocation is to be a watchman who reminds God, day and night, to complete the salvation? Is the church too comfortable in the world? Are we satisfied pursuing our desires and distracting ourselves from the state of the world and the state of our own souls? Have we forgotten God’s promise to save the whole world and contenting ourselves with the hope of going to heave when I die?

Jesus said that our prophetic vocation is to remind God. When He was born, He was laid in a manger because there is no guest room; but the night before He died there will finally be a guest room. He will bless bread and wine and call it the covenant of His body and blood. He will command us to do it as a MEMORIAL to Him. “Remind the Father,” Jesus says, “that I die to save the world.” “Remind the Father,” Jesus says, “salvation is not complete.” Pray for God’s rule to come.

So tonight we remember. Tonight we pray. We remind the Father:

Father make your name holy.

Father your kingdom come.

Father your will be done on earth.

WE remind the Father of the meaning of Jesus in the bread and cup.

And, finally, when enough people truly want God to live among us, He will remember His promise and come. HE will remember and make salvation complete!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Reflection: Children Service

Luke 1:39-55

Luke's story is a comparison between the Caesar and the Christ. Who is the real King of everything? Jesus. The angels of heaven let us know the real truth about the Messiah Savior and Lord because in the story they tell the shepherds and we can read it.

There are lots of meaning in the story. Shepherds  were watchmen, protecting the sheep from danger. They were usually poor and did not get a lot of respect. They are a sign that if we feel unimportant God still speaks His message to us. The Messiah is for everyone, great and small. Even me and you!

Shepherds are also witnesses and worshippers. They saw baby Jesus and told others what God had said and God had done. They were amazed and praised God and glorified Him. God is still amazing, every day is a miracle. We should praise God every day, lots and lots!

But I think there is a secret meaning to the story. In the Jewish Bible, the Kings and leaders are called shepherds. Here's the secret. In the Gospels the authors find stories in the Jewish Bible and apply them to Jesus. They say He fulfills the prophecies. I think the story of the shepherds is also a prophecy. Some day, the angels of God will announce to all the world that Jesus is the Messiah Lord and Savior. I think those shepherds are a reminder that all the kings and leaders of the world will come to worship Jesus some day. They will understand that He is the true King, the real King.

Baby Jesus was in a manger--that is a feeding trough. This is also a secret meaning. Jesus is the Bread of Life--He feeds us Himself. He feeds us with His words and with His body and blood in communion. We have heard His word, now we are amazed that God loves us so! Now let us go to the altar/manger and be fed with His own life.

And let us always praise God and glorify Him for He is so loving and good to us.

Advent 4 Mary Model

Advent 4
Micah 5: 2-5a
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-55

Life in the Middle East is governed by honor and shame. Social expectations and evaluations shaped, and sometimes scarred people. Emotional pain was something Elizabeth had endured because of sterility, while Mary, pregnant before marriage, will soon deal with the judgements of others. Mary’s decision to rush off to see Elizabeth would have been an extraordinary, and scandalous, decision in this culture. Mary and Elizabeth were brave and strong in ways that we cannot imagine. God chose them to play a vital role in salvation history. Though they were “powerless” women, their roles as mothers will unleash the power of God's salvation into the world.

This world will reject John and Jesus—both will be executed for their faith. On Christmas Eve we will read about this hostility when the newborn Jesus is laid in a manger because there was no room in the guest room. If the world is inhospitable to the boys, Mary and Elizabeth, humble servants of God, provide hospitality in their own wombs.

The two Greek words for womb are also used for the “inner person,” the heart and soul. The term womb appears again in Luke 11:27-28, when a woman tells Jesus, "Blessed is the womb that bore you!" He will respond, "Blessed is the one who hears God's word and obeys it." Mary heard God’s message and obeyed. So must we.

Salvation is not simply spiritual. We live in a flesh and blood world. Real women and actual wombs are needed for the unborn Messiah and His prophets. Salvation is a flesh and blood reality. It requires human cooperation.

You and I can never be the mother of John or Jesus. We can, however, open our hearts and souls to receive them. If God can use them to achieve His goals, then He can certainly use us, whatever our limitations might be.  These women played a central role in making the saving work of Jesus possible. The word of the prophet and the Word made flesh can and do live within us. Like them, we will suffer for our faith, like their sons we may suffer something worse, but the choice is ours to trust and obey whatever the cost.

To say yes, allows us the privilege to pray Mary’s prayer. Our souls can magnify the Lord, our spirits can rejoice in God our Savior. We can say “I am blessed,” and that “God has done great things for me,” because in every generation God does have mercy on those who love and obey Him. Salvation comes for those who wait. The world will be turned upside down. The mighty are destined to be cast down, while the lowly, hungry and poor will be raised up. Do not be fooled by the current situation, the day of salvation is coming. No one would have thought Mary and Elizabeth carried Messiah and His prophet, but they did. Now it is our turn: To accept the prophet’s mantle and prepare the way of the Lord. To carry Jesus salvation and healing to all we meet.  

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Advent 3: Prophecy and Response

Zephaniah 3:14-20
(canticle 9) Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

In his book, The Prophets, Abraham Heschel describes prophets as men who have been shattered by an experience of God's nearness. Union with God is a consuming fire which purifies us. The Divine Heart, shared with the prophets, is described in human terms: God feels sorrow, is angry at injustice and moved to compassion for its victims. He is merciful to those who turn to Him and sustains those who trust Him, but those who turn from Him suffer the consequences. 

Zephaniah's (p679 NRSV) short book unveils these "feelings" of God in dramatic fashion. "I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says the Lord." Humans, animals, birds and fish are enumerated, but then the focus on Judah, her people and more pointedly, her religious and political leaders. Those who have been unfaithful, who have turned from God, will not be saved by their silver and gold on the day of the Lord's wrath.

Prophets declare judgment. They warn people of what is coming. Jesus does this very thing Himself. The "Bad News," however, is meant as an invitation to repentance. Zephaniah 2 is typical, with an invitation to "seek the Lord, be humble and righteous." The judgment includes both Judah and the Nations. God offers an invitation and human choices have consequences.

In addition to warning of judgment and offering an invitation to repentance, there is a third element to the prophetic message: the Promise. Prophetic books often end with an upbeat proclamation like the one we read today. Harsh words are balanced by the exhortation to sing and rejoice, and the declaration that for the people of God wrath comes to an end. Zephaniah proclaims God's promise: that He will be the King who will be among His people to deliver them and renew them. The messages of the prophets often move from death to resurrection.

Christians see John the Baptizer as the last prophet of the First Covenant. We have only a brief snippet of his preaching, but it does not stray from the prophetic model of Zephaniah. 

John begins with the words "brood of vipers," a harsh declaration of the unworthiness of the crowd. (Jesus uses the same word in Mt 23:33) John also declares "the wrath to come" and commands not only repentance, but also the fruits worthy of repentance. This can be summarized by a negative (do not be greedy) and a positive (be generous). In other words, love your neighbor as one like your self. Lastly, John promises a coming Redeemer, who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.

The call to repentance this day is not meant to be joyless. Zephaniah and Paul both speak of rejoicing. However, the rest of the story includes the command to be righteous, to live as God would have us live.

In every age the human cultures are a deterrent to faith and fidelity. In this Christmas season, how many of us feel the pressure of buying gifts for people who need nothing? Yet there are so many who lack the bare essentials and we give them not a thought. If Zephaniah or John the Baptist were to come to your home tonight, what advice would they give you about your Christmas worries and concerns? Where do you find reason to rejoice and sing in this holiday time?

The prophetic voices reveal God to us in this Advent season. I think we hear them clearly. Now, it is up to us to simply respond in faith.