Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 25

John 1:1-14

I've always been stopped in my tracks by these lyrics in John’s great poem: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born…of God.”

Faith provides a birth within us, a birth that grows into new life. As Martin Luther preached creatively in one of his Christmas sermons,

Christ takes our birth from us and absorbs it in his birth, and grants us his (birth), that in it we might become pure and holy, as it were our own, so that every Christian may rejoice and glory in Christ’s birth as much as if he had himself been born of Mary as was Christ… This is the only way in which Christ can be rightly known so that the conscience is satisfied and made to rejoice…This is what is meant by Isaiah 9:6, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a son is given,” to us, to us, to us is born, and to us is given this child . . . See to it that you make this birth your own and that Christ be born in you.[1]

That’s what the Gospel of John is inviting us to claim. When faith in Christ takes birth within us, it grows. Just like the Baby Jesus. Faith starts small, just as small as a mustard seed, but then it grows and grows until it takes over. As Christ is born within us, his love heals our crippled spirits. His peace swallows up our divisions. His justice grows until it overwhelms the unfairness of the world.  His truth increases until all things are claimed by his grace. Which is to say: Jesus Christ is the Lord of all.

I wish you all all the joy that comes by welcoming Christ into your life. Cast your cares on him. Trust in him. Live in him. And let him live in you.

Merry Christmas!

Bill Carter

Saturday, December 24, 2016

December 24

Luke 2:8-20

"Peace on earth" - it strikes me how the angel's song (Luke 2:14) will be echoed on Palm Sunday by the pilgrims shouting "peace in heaven." (Luke 19:38) So with the angel's song above our heads, our Christmas Eve invitation is to echo that song. Hence these words: 

Beyond all darkness and all sin, the truth is told above:
that God shines light upon our world, that God draws near in love.
As Word takes Flesh, big concepts such as grace and truth and peace
are made concrete in Jesus, who embodies words like these.

The angels point to Him tonight. He comes in mystery.
They point to him for He’s the One who redeems history.
We’re not left empty or alone, cut off from heaven’s plan.
The song connects both strong and weak in one young Jewish man.

One day when Christ would show his strength in great humility,
He rode a colt into the town for all the world to see.
Bystanders waved their palms and raised their voices up to sing:
“All peace in heaven, glory too” -- the angels echoing!

That’s what God wants – an echo! As the song starts from above,
It comes to dwell among us, then we give it back in love.
From God, through us, and back to God. That’s how the carols move.
The world is filled with rhythm ‘til we all get in the groove.

God starts the joy by sending Christ. The shepherds join the dance
And soon this night is filled with light, and all receive the chance
To lay down troubles at the cross, all sins abandoning.
And then the “world gives back the song which now the angels sing.”

So now we sing. We must respond. For much is now at stake
This world is shrouded in dark gloom and few dare stay awake.
The Caesars stomp with bloody boots and fill weak souls with fright.
It's up to us to echo grace. Our songs shall pierce the night.

Our mission is to sing, and serve all neighbors who cannot,
until the song consumes the world. This is God’s joyful plot.
Tonight we echo angels as we sing of peace and grace.
We lift the song that we received. With candles, find your place. 

Bill Carter

Friday, December 23, 2016

December 23

Luke 2:1-14

Christmas in lands of the fir-trees and pine,
Christmas in lands of the palm trees and vine,
Christmas where snow peaks stand solemn and white,
Christmas were corn fields lie sunny and bright;
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.

Christmas where children are hopeful and gay,
Christmas where old men are patient and gray,
Christmas where peace, like a dove in its flight,
Broods o'er brave men in the thick of the fight;
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.

For the Christ child who comes is the master of all;
No place too great, no cottage too small;
The angels who welcome him sing from the height,
"In the city of David, a King in his might;"
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.

Then let every heart keep its Christmas within:
Christ's pity for sorrow, Christ's hatred of sin,
Christ's care for the weakest, Christ's courage for right,
Christ's dread of the darkness, Christ's love of the light;
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.

So the stars of the midnight which compass us round
Shall see a strange glory and hear a sweet sound,
And cry, "Look! the earth is aflame with delight,
O sons of the morning rejoice at the sight!"
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.

                                      - Phillips Brooks
                                      - shared by Beverly Bright

Thursday, December 22, 2016

December 22

It seems that everyone experiences times of great concerns, fears, or hurt. It's at times such as these that we may fail to understand that someone has our back. As Christians we might still forget. In our pain and fear for our future, we just might forget that fact.

But when reminded of the promise of the Lord, that he will send his son to save us, and that he has already done so in Jesus, we have hope. It may not be as we had expected. It may be just as we expected. But saved we will be, if we simply believe.

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace... these are the names that were promised and delivered. No matter our problems, he is with us and knows our needs. We can be with him in paradise if only we believe. Whether or not he cures us of our difficulty, what awaits us is worth our pain. It allows us to live each day, happy in our knowledge of our Savior's grace.

Ed Cole

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

December 21

Paul begins chapter 2 with the admonition to Titus to avoid being like those who say they know God but do not demonstrate that in their actions.  He then instructs Titus about how to teach others what righteous living looks like.  Why, though, should they – and by extension we – live with dignity, perseverance, reverence, love, purity, submission to Christ and others, and gentleness of speech?  Paul gives us the answer in verses 11-14.  We are to live this way because of the incarnation, the appearance of Christ who is the “grace of God.”  In coming to earth, Christ brought salvation and instruction in both resisting worldly desires and in living sensible, righteous, and godly lives.  Beyond that, the first incarnation also teaches us to live in hopeful anticipation of Christ’s second advent.

Ponder it: the grace of God, given to us through the Christ whose birth we celebrate during this Advent season.  What an amazing gift—the greatest of all!  We cannot earn our salvation, nor can we ever repay God for all that He so freely gives us.  As Christians, we are called, in this glorious season and throughout the year, to remember the God who never forgets us and to spread the Good News of salvation.  With hearts and minds focused on Him, may our lives reflect the hope and promise of God’s loving grace.

Karis and David Naeher

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

December 20

Let your face shine. That's the recurring prayer of Psalm 80. It's a way of saying, "Look with favor upon us. Shower us with grace and mercy. Give us a great big smile." Or as the great benediction in the Bible puts it, "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26)

Let your face shine, that we may be saved. That's what we want, because others have seen it before. God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt. When the nation of Israel was a weak, little vine, God drove out the nations and planted it. God cleared the land, until the beloved vine took deep root and spread. God has loved the people of Israel.

So we find ourselves wondering how God regards us. Scripture reminds us how God extends deep favor beyond the people of Israel. We have been grafted onto the vine of Israel. Once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy. That's our Christian story. Advent points us toward the Face of God.

When we get to Bethlehem, that's exactly what we see - the incomparable Mystery of God wrapped in the human face of the Child.  He is the One who looks upon us with a love we do not deserve, a grace we cannot earn. His name is Jesus, "Savior," for his shining face will rescue us.

Bill Carter

Monday, December 19, 2016

December 19

Very little is written about Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. However, Biblical accounts suggest that he was probably a quiet and introspective person. A carpenter by trade, he was considered to be just and fair in his dealings with others. He was a man who was willing to meet his secular obligations without ignoring his religious convictions.

throughout the Christmas narrative, we see a strong, prayerful dialogue between Joseph and his heavenly Father. This dialogue didn't start with his approaching marriage to Mary. It was developed over years of religious study and prayer.

Joseph knew when his heavenly Father spoke to him and reacted immediately to God's commands. this awareness of God's voice could only have come from an intimate, searching relationship developed through prayer. There were no excuses or complaints, only instantaneous obedience. Even the social stigma attached to his betrothal did not deter him.

Joseph felt God's presence in his life. He put the Lord's will first, even though he wasn't sure exactly where it would lead. If only we could grow to be as confident of His presence in our life. The Bible reminds each of in Matthew 21:22 that "whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." Faith was the foundation on which Joseph and Mary built their marriage. The child they raised together was named Emmanuel, God is with us. From that time on, the world was changed.

Dear God, please help me to develop a prayer life like your servant Joseph. May my faith grow to the point where I recognize your voice and accept your will for my life. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Jack Pittman