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“…and ever o’er its Babel sounds…”

A nice word for the 8th Day of Christmastide:

“No one would have expected that the One whose fingers could stop the turning of Arcturus would be smaller than the head of an ox; that He who could hurl the ball of fire into the heavens would one day be warmed by the breath of beasts; that He who could make a canopy of stars would be shielded from a stormy sky by the roof of a stable; or that He who made the earth as His future home would be homeless at home. No one would have expected to find Divinity in such a condition…the World has always sought Divinity in the power of a Babel, but never in the weakness of a Bethlehem.

—Archbishop Fulton Sheen (d. 1979)

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Posted by on January 2, 2015 in 12 Days of Christmastide

 

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Surfeited, Sluggish and Lazy? Fourth Wednesday of Advent – 14.12.24

It’s here. Christmas Eve. And we find ourselves at the end of 1 Peter, where the Apostle gives a final exhortation:

Resist [the Devil], firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 5:9-11)

Resisting temptation…it just never goes away, does it? C’mon…even on Christmas?!?!?

Here is Martin Luther’s commentary. He starts, interestingly enough, with the physical side of resisting temptation. “Sober you should be, and vigilant, but to the end that the body be kept in a proper frame. Yet with all this, the devil is not routed; this only suffices to afford the body less occasion to sin … if he can make you lazy, so that your body is unguarded and inclined to wantonness, then will he quickly wrench the sword from your grasp … if the body be surfeited, sluggish, and lazy, it is a certain sign that the soul before was drunken, that is, secure, weary and tired of the Word, and besides sleeps and snores.”

Unwrapped Christmas PresentsLuther makes me laugh…and cry at the same time! He nails me. During the holidays, I inevitably find myself sitting on the couch after eating an amazing meal, having had a couple of desserts, now nibbling on cookies, staring at a pile of un-needed gifts and used wrapping paper …you might as well hang a sign around my neck that says “surfeited, sluggish and lazy.” That’s what Christmas is all about, right?

Sleeping-after-Christmas-002But it’s not just Christmas…it’s holidays in general. The nation of Israel used to have holidays. They were all designed to celebrate and honor the mighty acts of God in the lives of His people (Passover, Feast of Booths, Hanukkah…). You gathered and worshiped as prescribed in the law, out of profound gratitude, for the pleasure of God. In the United States, some of our holidays had similar intentions – honoring the Revolution, memorializing and honoring veterans, honoring past leaders, even honoring the labor force. We celebrated something way bigger and more important than ourselves.

But any more, holidays are for self. They are days we are told we don’t have to work, and we can rather indulge ourselves on those days for our pleasure. Parties, sales, lots of alcohol, lot of, as Luther would say, “wantonness.” We’re the honorees…we wear the crowns.

george-cruikshank-swallow-at-christmas-satire-on-seasonal-gluttonySuch is the fate of Christmas, I’m afraid. I guess I shouldn’t expect a culture that struggles to honor anything to gather itself and honor a mostly-rejected spiritual leader’s birthday. I should expect people to celebrate, not Christ, but themselves. It’s really nothing personal, Jesus. It’s how we as a self-absorbed, carnal culture celebrate all holidays.

praying bibleBut, there will be some. I’m sure there are some every year. Some who will actually find joy in the word of God, even in the tough words of God, even on Christmas day. They’ll find it in themselves (through Spirit, prayer and Word) to remain a disciple, even on Jesus’ birthday. The joy of the Lord will trump the happiness of indulgence. And, with the Spirit unquenched, they will resist the Devil, and he will flee. They will enjoy the presence of the Lord on Christmas. To Him will be dominion, forever and ever … including even Christmas day.

Lord, forgive me. Might I be counted among the faithful this year. And throughout the upcoming 12 Days of Christmastide. And forevermore. Amen.

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Advent 2014, Discipleship

 

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One Fruit Cake Too Many! Third Saturday of Advent – 14.12.20

personalized-christmas-cookies-500x262A brief offering for you today – in light of the growing pile of Christmas goodies on your kitchen counters.

(First, let me preface this with an apology to any over-sensitive Germans there might be out there. I’m just quoting Luther!)

Today, we hit upon this Advent-related verse from 1 Peter: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.Now, when I think of being “sober”, I think about avoiding the effects of inebriation. Luther has a broader view….

schlaraffenland2“’To be sober’ means that we eat and drink only sufficient, so that the body may practice abstinence and perform its functions aright … On this subject there should be a great deal of preaching, for we Germans are about sinking in ruin under the shameful vice of overeating and overdrinking!”

I rarely connect my physical fitness with my spiritual life. But Luther does, and calls us all to temperance in our appetites – not so we’ll look good, feel good, or live longer, but that our prayer lives would be stronger! What do you think?

(And a brief word about 16th century Germans: I don’t know anything about your eating habits, but I must venture a calculated guess that you didn’t suffer the propensity to obesity that we collectively experience in 21st America, land of fast lifestyles and fast foods. If anything, we need to hear Luther’s thoughts more than the people of his day did!)

Again, in the irony that is the Advent-turned-commercial-Christmas season, what once was a time dedicated to heightened discipline has turned rather into a less-than-holy-day of license, even gluttony. Fitness clubs’ biggest month of the year is January, partly because everyone lets themselves go during the days around Christmas.

sfIf Luther is right … could our over-eating be a key reason why Jesus has slipped from being the reason for the season? Is there any chance that some of us might do the edifying, counter-cultural thing … that is, stay disciplined during this season, allow Christ and His Word to remain on the throne of our lives, and help make the holy-day genuinely holy?

By the way, our feast is coming on the 25th … and for 12 days after that! Hang on, everyone! And pray richly and deeply during these last few days of Advent as we prepare for the true celebration ahead.

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Advent 2014, Discipleship

 

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Twelfth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 12 coolWe finish our Christmastide journey through Romans 12 and 13 by coming full circle back to Advent.

Jesus came at Christmas … and He’s coming again soon.

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:11-14)

79 percentThis surprised me: Most people believe Jesus will return! Well, they did in 2006, anyway, which isn’t that long ago. In a Pew Research survey taken that year of thousands of American adults, 79% said they believe in the literal second coming of Jesus.

This surprises me, because people don’t live like it. They hardly talk about it. It certainly doesn’t seem like people are preparing for it. That’s why I’m just not sure we’re ready for it.

Almost everybody missed the first Christmas. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and some Iraqi astrologers…that’s who got it. The prophecies were out there. The timing of His coming was spot on (see the book of Daniel). Still, it was an anonymous event.

10 virgins

Then, Jesus told His disciples often that He would come a second time in glory to judge the world. In many of those stories, he describes people who simply were not going to be ready, and who would miss it.

Now, here in Romans, Paul says that there is a position to be taken in light of the upcoming return of Jesus. It’s a moral agenda – the mortifying of sinful desires. Frankly, it’s the opposite of our usual Christmastide agendas, which are fixated on indulging our desires. My wife Karen works at a daycare, and has been asking the kids if they had a good Christmas. The response is almost always a listing of gifts received. A “good” Christmas is a profitable one, not a righteous one. As Benjamin Franklin quipped, “How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, his precepts! O! ’tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments.”

Define Good XmasI hope this has been a “good” Christmastide for you all … in the goodest sense of the word “good”! I pray that your meditation on the incredible gift of the Holy Christ has moved you to want to give your life as a living sacrifice to Him in return. To put on Christ. In thanks for His first coming, we prepare ourselves for the second.

The (second) day is at hand! We believe it. Let’s be ready for it!

Merry Christmas … and a blessed Epiphany season beginning tomorrow.

 

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Tenth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 10 fence

Christmas … and politics? Do we have to?

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but alsofor the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.” (Romans 13:1-7)

The first Christmas was more politically charged than ours is today. The Jewish people, with their long, proud heritage of freedom fighting and military rebellion, were under Roman occupation. The ongoing hope was for the promised Messiah to come, who would lead them to their political emancipation.

magiherodThe birth story itself is soaked with politics. The very reason Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem was because of the Empire-wide taxation program (you think signing up online for Obamacare is tough duty – try a 50+ mile donkey ride during your 9th month of pregnancy!). Jesus spent some of his childhood in the hated next-door-nation of Egypt because the local ruler felt threatened by religious prophecies. Then, Jesus grew up in Galilee, which was predominantly Hellenistic, unlike the conservatives in Judah, who would find the simple-minded “liberals” from down the hill to be at best pitiful, at worst repulsive.

It was impossible to keep from being embroiled in politics in first century Palestine.

globes ornamentsThis is good for us to hear today. Jesus came into a political situation, and lived a politically-aware life. And the incarnate one gave specific guidance for living out this reality. Be good citizens. Pay your taxes faithfully is you the payer … and if you’re the payee, please collect only what is properly due. And here, Paul echoes these counter-revolutionary ideas: Subjection. Do what is good. Have appropriate fear of the magistrate. But even more than that, it’s attitude! Respect and honor!

Merry Christmas! God has come, and has made it very clear: Life in light of Christmas leaves us inescapably in the politics of our lands … where we, like Him, will be blessed to live honorably. This is a gift of God! For it is “for your good.”

 
 

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Ninth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 9“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21).

sermon-on-the-mount-copenhagen

We celebrate the birth of Jesus because He is absolutely and wonderfully good. He never sinned. He never did anything to hurt anyone. He loved everyone, especially the unlovely. He provided food. He healed. He even raised people from the dead. A nicer person has never been known, and a more magnificent life has never been lived.

But, as we all know, Jesus’ life was marked by antagonism. From His rocky birth story (road trip, manger, refugees in Egypt, escaping infanticide) to His adult years (theological controversy, political disagreement, execution, abandonment, doubt), this good man was constantly dealing with bad responses.

V - ScroogeWhen Jesus began his teaching ministry, one of the first things He said was “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12).

V - PotterIn other words, this is no surprise. It’s written in stone. Good comes into our fallen world, and the natural reaction is that it gets beat up.

It should not surprise us that God’s entering His own world through the incarnation should end with conflict. It should also not surprise us that, in as much as God abides in and sanctifies us, we are destined for adversity, too.

V - BurgerSo, Paul’s words today are an appropriate Christmastide reminder. Life on the planet is full of fighting, much of it over limited resources which leave us hungry and thirsty. As the arrogant attack one another, it leaves us in tears. These are the conditions of Jesus’ coming to Bethlehem, and they remain the conditions of our day-to-day experience.

V - FarkusHow will we mange these conditions? Is there hope? For Jesus, it ended in death. Will it be the same for us? If so, is Christmas really a good thing, or is it just getting into a fight that we’re destined to lose? The last words of the verse give us our hope: “Overcome evil with good.” It’s possible.

V - GrinchIn fact, it’s promised. It won’t happen completely until Jesus returns. In the meantime, we attempt to live our lives well … as well as Jesus did, that’s the goal … knowing that, for now, we’ll experience Jesus-like reactions. But, like Jesus, along the way, there are moments of wonder, of redemption, of glory for the Father.

Merry Christmas! Christ has come. Now, put on your armor…it’s more dangerous out there than ever.

 

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Eighth Day of Christmastide ’14!

Number 8“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)

If you’re like me, you’ve always hoped to be really prosperous so that you could give more to others. But that’s not the way prosperity plays out. One could make the argument that the U.S. has been the most materially prosperous culture in history. But statistics point out that our having more has not translated into giving more. In fact, statistics show that 30% of Americans don’t give … period. 80% of Americans give less than 2% of their income.

Verses like today’s are not new to us. We’ve been told all our lives that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We should give, it is good for us to give, and we can give. But we don’t give.

scrooge turkeyDickens’ Christmastide story A Christmas Carol speaks directly to this problem of our human condition. Scrooge is a miser – the opposite of generous – who is stirred to change his life. The story ends with Scrooge spending liberally to contribute to the needs of the poor, especially to the family of his employee, Bob Cratchit. Everyone ends up having a most happy Christmas because of his gifts. “God bless us, every one!” says Cratchit’s boy, Tiny Tim. Perhaps the “Scrooge Factor” is why giving does spike during the Christmastide season (or maybe it has more to do with year-end tax benefits to our giving). But, 171 years of Dickens’ tale, along thousands of years of Biblical influence, doesn’t seem to have moved our meter. We seem to be getting worse.

My heritage, then, is scrooge-like. I’m not generous, American culture is not generous, and the American Christian church is not generous. But it hasn’t always been like this. I have ancient relatives who were very generous. The first days of the church were marked by need-meeting and generosity. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45) Is there any chance I can become more like those people? Any chance our churches can become more like that early church?

Giving GuyThe Christmastide word today challenges us to be proactive. It doesn’t say be willing to respond if a need comes our way. It calls us to seek to show hospitality. We should be internally motivated to be generous, and do what we need to to find opportunities to express it. After all, getting gifts is wonderful! If it is truly more blessed to give than to receive, it must be really wonderful to be generous!

Have a wonderful, blessed new year!

 

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