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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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