Friday, December 23, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
With Advent coming to a close and Christmas just a few days away, and with a brand new baby in my arms, I can't help but think of Mary holding her little one.
The Bible tells of Jesus' birth in such simple language: "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them" (Luke 2:6-7).
I imagine it was a lot more complicated than that. The birth of a child is a complicated and messy thing, even today in hospitals. I can't imagine doing it the way Mary did...in a stable with no help. I imagine it wasn't an especially silent night, at least not at first. The noises of a woman in labor, the sounds of restless animals disturbed by the woman's noises, the cries of a baby pushed suddenly into a world much bigger and colder than the one it had known...no, it could not have been very quiet.
The silence and stillness would have come later, when the animals had quieted, when Joseph slept and Mary, exhausted but too full of wonderment to sleep, held her sleeping newborn son.
I am in awe of my child--how much more so she must have been, holding "the maker of the moon...the author of the faith that could make the mountains move." Did she know what the future would bring? I think she knew she held the Messiah, but did she know what that really meant?
Do we know, today, what that really means, or does that get lost in the not-so-silent moments that invade this time of year? The child whose birth we celebrate is our Messiah, our Savior--God become man, who took our sins on Himself and paid our debt so that we could have eternal life with Him. This is no little thing. It is something to wonder and marvel at, and to praise God for! Take a moment to reflect on this and to give thanks to God, and for today's prayer, read the words of this hymn:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
God’s timing. It is not very easy for us lowly mortals to understand. How often do we find ourselves waiting in anticipation for something to happen only to find we have to wait longer, or perhaps we even give up hope that it will ever happen.
I would imagine that Elizabeth must have felt this way. I wonder how many times in her younger years Elizabeth would watch her friends and relatives have children and sit back to wonder when it would be her time. When year after year passed and she remained barren when did she reach the point of giving up hope that her time to have a child would ever come?
We all find ourselves struggling with this waiting game in our own unique ways. Maybe, like Elizabeth, you have spent time waiting to know when you would be blessed to be a mother while others around you had families growing. Maybe you have had to spend time waiting to find out if a job opportunity is going to open up and if you will be the one hired. Maybe you have had to wait trying to sell a home in a hard economic climate. Maybe you have had to wait for medical test results that may not be so good. These are a few examples, and I am sure we can all find more.
So, what can we learn about waiting and God’s perfect timing from looking at the life of Elizabeth? We learn to wait. We learn to be patient. We learn to trust in God’s goodness and love for all people. We learn that God’s timing is always perfect.
You see, in Elizabeth’s life, God’s timing of sending her a child was perfect. Elizabeth’s child, John, had to be born at the time he was born. God had a very special purpose for this child. Zechariah says in Luke 1:76, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him.” John was born at this special time to prepare the people for the Savior of the world.
As you find yourself waiting, may the peace of God give you comfort. Rest assured that God’s timing is always perfect, even when we do not understand it. And, as you continue waiting in this season of Advent for Jesus coming, know that it will happen in God’s perfect time.
Prayer - Lord we know that waiting is not always easy for us to do. We ask that You guide us to put our hope and trust in You as we await many and various things in our lives. Help us Lord to seek You as we await the coming of our Savior. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
A friend of mine posted an article on her blog that was written by her husband, Pastor Hans Fiene, for The Lutheran Witness last November. It was exactly what I needed to read, and I immediately knew it had to be shared here. Merry Christmas to all of you!
How to Escape the Christmas Madness
by Hans Fiene
Advent is not pre-Christmas, you have been told. Advent is not a series of mini-celebrations of Christ’s birth. It is a season where we focus on repenting of our sins and on waiting for the arrival of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory and the Babe of Bethlehem.
That is, of course, all true. But let’s face it: sometimes it’s really hard to celebrate Advent the way you ought to when the demands of celebrating Christmas, both the true version and the secular version, are weighing you down. With parties and presents, candles and credit breathing down your neck from the moment Thanksgiving ends, it’s not always easy to have the proper Advent frame of mind.
But Christ wasn’t born of Mary to burden you with more stress than you already have. He was born of the Virgin so that He might carry all your burdens to the cross. The Word of God didn’t become flesh to add more guilt to an already guilt-ridden season. He became flesh to take away your guilt by forgiving your sins through the shedding of His blood. And because the Jesus Christ at the heart of Christmas is also at the heart of the Advent season, His mercy and forgiveness always can and always will give comfort to those who hear His Word during the time of the Church year when we prepare for His arrival.
So if you find yourself overwhelmed on the First Sunday of Advent, unable to focus because you only managed to check off 50 percent of your door-buster Black Friday gift list, pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. Listen to the Gospel reading about Christ’s triumphal entry. Listen to God’s Word tell you about His Son arriving in Jerusalem as your king, as the One who now rules you in mercy and love through His Word and Sacraments.
This is the Jesus who did more than stand in a crowded line at four in the morning to give you His gifts. This is the Jesus who won the gifts of eternal life and salvation for you through His death on the cross and who now pours them out upon you in the waters of Baptism, in His body and His blood, and in the preached Word. So, on the first Sunday of Advent, when you need to step outside of the Christmas madness, take a moment to hear of Jesus Christ, who is with you now.
If you find yourself stressed out beyond belief on the Second Sunday of Advent, incapable of paying attention because you haven’t finished your daughter’s snowflake costume for her school’s Christmas concert, or rather “Winter Extravaganza,” relax. Listen to the Gospel reading about John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord.
Listen to God’s Word tell you about the One holding the winnowing fork. This is the Jesus who has done more for your daughter than completing her concert costume. This is the Jesus who will come again in glory to gather your daughter, you, John the Baptist, and all believers to His side on the Last Day. So, on the Second Sunday of Advent, when you need a break from the Yuletide overload, take a moment to hear of Jesus Christ, the One who will call you worthy of eternal life on the Day of Judgment.
If you look down at your fingers on the Third Sunday of Advent and find you’ve bitten your nails down to the quick because the Christmas bonus that you have depended on for the last five years to buy your wife’s present is going to be one-fifth its normal size, be calm. Listen to the Gospel reading about John in prison. Listen to God’s Word tell you about the One who will give sight to the blind, life to the dead, and good news to the poor.
This is the Jesus whom God promised would be your Savior, regardless of your paycheck’s size. This is the Jesus whom John the Baptist identified as the Redeemer of both rich and poor alike. So, on the Third Sunday of Advent, when you need to wake up from your Nativity nightmare, take a moment to hear of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who is coming soon.
And if you find that, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, your head won’t stop spinning about how you are going to pick up your parents from the airport, finish wrapping everyone’s presents, walk the dog, and get everyone dressed before 7 p.m. on December 24, inhale. Exhale.
Listen to the Gospel reading about the angel’s proclamation of the Christ Child inside the womb of Mary. Listen to God’s Word tell you about Immanuel, God with us, who will soon be here to carry your burdens and those of all mankind. So, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, when you want to find relief from a season that has buried you in an endless pile of guilt and worry, take a moment to hear of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born to take your guilt and worry from you.
Advent is not pre-Christmas. It is not a series of mini-celebrations of Christ’s birth. But Advent is a season of hope, a season rooted in waiting for the arrival of Christ’s mercy. And so, whenever the demands of preparing for Christmas weigh you down and wear you out, Advent is always there to build you up by showing you the love of the Savior for whom you wait. Whenever the stress of celebrating our Lord’s birth fills you with sin and shame, Advent will never fail to give you the forgiveness of Christ, whose birth we joyfully prepare to celebrate.
Rev. Hans Fiene is pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, Denver, Colo.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
Once the tree was glimmering with lights and the festive ornaments were hung, we would pull out the handmade stockings of felt covered with beads and sequins with our names stitched at the top. The garland was hung on the fireplace mantle or staircase and the egg nog was in the fridge ready for us to enjoy.
The excitement of the season didn't stop once the decorating was complete because growing up I lived far away from my grandparents and extended family which kept us apart at Christmas time. Because of this my family would ship boxes of Christmas presents to us the years we were kept apart. Each day in the weeks leading up to Christmas I would come home from school with anticipation bubbling forth waiting to hear the doorbell ring, waiting to see the familiar chocolate brown UPS truck sitting out at the curb. we would eagerly run to the door grappling with the cumbersome box eager to begin pulling out the festively wrapped contents and place them under the tree.
These precious memories still hold a special place in my heart. As a kid the excitement was focused on the fact that I would soon have new trinkets, toys and games to play. As an adult the joy I have in these memories is not found in getting new trinkets and toys but rather it focuses on the fact that so many of my loved ones had the gift of giving. Giving of their time and their thoughts. Each year my grandparents would painstakingly choose one ornament from Hallmark that reminded them of me. One year it was a Strawberry Shortcake ornament. Another year it was a tin ornament in the shape of an elephant. Each one chosen to bring me joy.
My mother also was giving of her time. At the birth of each new child and grandchild or the addition of a son-in-law my mother would spend countless hours stitching together a stocking. Each stocking was a different pattern and each required hand stitching of hundreds of beads and sequins and each had our names stitched by hand. Oh the love held within those stockings.
It is so easy, even now, to focus on the gifts rather than the giving. This past year has reminded me that life is precious and family is precious and love is powerful. I find myself in awe of what an amazing and selfless gift God gave us when he sent His precious son to earth as a sacrifice for our sinfulness. Oh how precious we are to God, how much we are loved by him that he gave us his Son.
Dear Lord: Thank you Lord for loving me so much that you sent your most precious Son to die for me. May we remember that this season is so much more than just giving gifts but also about sharing with others just how precious they are to us. Amen
Friday, December 9, 2011
Being employed by our city’s Children’s Theatre Company to perform in their December production has changed our Advent this year. I started looking at the calendar wondering when we’d all be at home to put up our decorations together. There wouldn’t be time. After pulling all the boxes out, I sadly left for rehearsal on Saturday. When I returned, my 10 year old daughter had almost single-handedly decorated the house. “I listened to Christmas music the whole time” she reported, which is a must by my standards. It was a warm, tearful moment as I realized she did it because she wanted to have the Christmas stuff out, but she also did it for me.
At times, I look at what I do for Jesus and think it isn’t enough. Obviously, it never will be, but it is exactly what He desires. He loves each chore and effort that we offer to His glory. God’s delight might be similar to the feeling I have over my daughter’s careful labor. It has inspired me to look at my own daily tasks and work at them with a similar intent: this is my gift, this is what I can offer to my Lord right now, and He loves to marvel at my work because I did it for Him.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Thank you for loving us in such a complete way. May our effort and gifts be delightful to You. Help us to acknowledge You in all that we do. Amen
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Peace is a word that we hear often during this time of year. If you look up the word peace in the dictionary, you will find definitions that deal with “the absence of war” or “free from fighting” or “free from disturbance”. These definitions are fine, but I don’t feel that they are quite what Isaiah had in mind when he wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)
The peace that the Prince of Peace brings to our lives goes much deeper than external issues like hectic schedules, crowded highways or annoying disturbances; it surpasses physical sickness, poverty and war. The peace that Christ brings to our lives gives us a freedom. Freedom from sin, death, and the power of the devil; it is a peace that only He can give to us. The apostle Paul had a great understanding of this special peace. Take a look at the opening paragraphs in Ephesians, Philippians, or 2 Thessalonians. Do you see the common word that leads to peace? Grace. It is because of God’s grace and His gift of His Son, Jesus, that we can know true peace. A peace that is not of this world but resides with us in this world. During this Advent season, as we make preparation for the coming of our Savior, may the words of Paul find their place both in our hearts and on our lips, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ..” Phil. 1:2 (ESV)
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Most parents I know have at one point or another questioned the inclusion of Santa Claus in their Christmas celebration. “When my children discover that Santa is make believe, how will I convince them that the same is not true about Jesus?” I’ve been asked this on several occasions and the concern is valid. We want our children to trust that even though the world will tell them all sorts of crazy lies, the things coming out of our mouths can be absolutely trusted.
The worldly stories told around Christmas time are intoxicating. They are about a fat man in a fuzzy red suit with flying reindeer that somehow fits down every chimney. They certainly foster the creative and inquisitive use of imagination I want my children to use to the fullest extent of their abilities. This is a terrific story, but it’s not the word of God. So how do I balance encouraging the excitement of the season, and being grounded in Christ at all times? Can I have it both ways? Maybe.
I have never been one to over exaggerate the idea of Santa, but when my children talk about making cookies for Santa I roll out the dough. My children have learned well from this world and can tell you all about jolly old St. Nick. He’s the guy that leaves gifts in their stockings depending on whether they have been naughty or nice. This is what the world knows of Santa. They seem to know him very well. Maybe not.
Today my family will read the story of Saint Nicholas and learn where the tales of this legendary figure really come from. They will hear about a real man who gave to others when they needed it most; who gave in thankfulness to God for the great gift of His Son. They will learn about a man who was persecuted for his faith, and who knew that the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation were necessary only because he was on the naughty list.
Yes, we will be hanging stockings and setting out cookies on Christmas Eve too. So, here’s the big question. When I’m asked if Santa Claus is real, what will I say? Maybe I’ll never be asked. Maybe my children will be too wrapped up in Luke 2 to care. But if (when) I’m asked, my response will go something like this...
Saint Nicholas is not a man who lives at the North Pole, but he was a man of God who was from what is now the country of
Blessings as you prepare to sit once again at the feet of your newborn King.
Teach me how to balance the ideas that the world has of Christmas with the truth of your Word. Help me to honor the sacrifice of your Son in how I teach my children throughout this season. Thank you for the salvation my family has because of Him.
In Jesus Name, Amen.
Monday, December 5, 2011
The 5 o’clock hour at our home can not necessarily be considered the most peaceful part of our
day. Between homework completion, four hungry tummies roaming around, tiredness creeping
in and dad not home yet, finding time to talk to the kids one-on-one about their days is almost
nonexistent. A rare moment occurred one afternoon this week where my oldest daughter and I
found ourselves....alone.... in our kitchen while I cooked. The floodgates opened and I had the
pleasure of hearing, uninterrupted, about her whole day. From who she ate lunch with, to how
she did not like her math lesson, she talked and I listened. What a treat! In that moment I felt
us grow closer. I felt us share even more things in common and I could sense the comfort she
got in laying her day out before me.
Relationships thrive on good communication. God lovingly invites us and encourages us to
communicate with him through prayer, much as a parent encourages their child to share their
daily lives with them. Our faith relationship is incredibly important to Him, not because He
needs it but because He loves us. He created us for relationships - first and foremost with
Him but also with others. He sent his only son to die for us to save us from all that makes us
unworthy of God. He wants that relationship to grow to the point where it is more important than
anything else and this happens when we reach out to him in prayer. There are lots of kinds of
communication - facial expressions, hand gestures, tone of voice, physical gifts. But above all,
verbal communication consists of all those things expressed in words. Prayer is that kind of
communication with our Heavenly Father.
It is both humbling and thrilling to realize that God wants to hear from us. He wants to hear
about our days, to hear out fears, our joys, all the mundane things included. He wants us to
bring our requests to him with open and sincere hearts. In Psalm 62:8, God tells us that we
should pour out our hearts to Him because He is our refuge. God is always available, never
distracted and and always eager to share our lives.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the gift of prayer. Thank you for loving us so much that you desire to have such
an initimate place in our daily lives. Help us each day to humbly come before you with all the
things that burden our hearts and all the joys we want to share with you. May we prioritize
those conversations with you so in turn our relationship with you can continue to grow deeper
each day. Amen.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
I wrote the following article for our church website. We have a weekly blog called "Taking Worship Home," and part of my job is to write it every so often. I wanted to share this one here during this busy season of Advent.
The title of this week’s sermon is “What Jesus Has For Me: Disciples Come To Receive.” (CLICK HERE to listen to it.) I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to receive what Jesus had for me in worship this weekend, but then in the opening prayer we spoke these words:
“Enter my reality, quiet the noise, slow my frantic pace, and give to me the rest and restoration my soul longs for that only You can give. Amen.”
“Enter my reality.” My reality on Sunday morning was a squirmy one year old in my lap, an even squirmier two year old sitting on the pew next to me, and Daddy was on a plane to New York. I was sitting there thinking that there was no way I was going to be able to take anything home from worship this weekend, much less write about it. I was wrong. This prayer hit me right where I was, and I intend to memorize it this week. It was exactly what I needed to hear then, and I have already needed to hear it since.
Then came the Gospel reading.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-30