It’s been years since I’ve been back to the little 10 person church I grew up in. But I have no doubt about what the sermon is going to be about this weekend. There weren’t a lot of constants at my home church, you never knew who was going to be speaking from week to week, and there was always a pretty good chance it was going to be you. Every week, that is, except for the Sunday after New Year. Continue reading A New Now
I know between all the family gatherings and Christmas parties this time of year that not many people are surfing the internet…including myself. But I’m coming up on the end of one my New Year’s Resolutions to post a blog at least once or twice a week, and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year. So in order to not ruin a streak that’s lasted a year, here’s a Christmas post I wrote a few years back. And from our family to yours:
Merry Christmas. Continue reading Christmas
If there is a major theme in the first five books of the Bible, it’s movement. The people of God never stayed in one place too long, and if they did it didn’t seem to go well for them. Like slavery, prison, or death….that kind of not going well for them.
And so they camped, for a long, long time. Continue reading Call Him Jesus
Late last night I officially finished my Church history class for the semester. It’s a great feeling being done with any class, even good ones. This semester has been difficult for me because, while I have deep hope for the church and what she could be, it’s hard to read about poor decisions made thousands of years ago that still impact us today. All while considering that the decisions we make today could have long term affects as well.
A little talked about fact from the World Wars is wardrobe. Probably because there are much more dramatic examples of cruelty or bravery that we can look at. But beneath the rubble and the destruction there was an idea. One that was put on the belt buckles of German Soldiers.
The idea was simply: “Gott Mit Uns” or God with us.
I know a lady who goes to our church who grew up in Nazi Germany. She has stories that are mesmerizing…Her father, at great personal risk, continually told his kids an alternative story to the one that Hitler was spinning. She tells about sitting hunched up in the living room corner listening to the bombs of the allies falling all around them. All while their dad was telling them that God was, in fact, not with the Nazi’s but with their little family.
And that is a lot like the story of Christmas.
There is a danger that being a couple of thousand years away from the story that we can forget how dangerous it really was. But there is a reason that the Angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt right after Jesus was born. Joseph goes from being a simple, pious carpenter to being the Jack Bauer of the New Testament. Because Herod had heard that somebody was saying that there was another king in town.
That God was with someone else.
And so Herod starts an infanticide, just to weed out any threats to his claim to power. Because he knows the danger of that kind of statement. He had been using it for decades. I don’t know of many world rulers, who haven’t used God in one form or another to accomplish either great good or great evil. Even the Stalin’s of the world used religion, just replacing God’s name with their own.
But here is the irony of Immanuel. Because the story of God With Us isn’t always good news. There is an edge of judgement to it as well. Think of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6. He’s explaining to people why they should avoid sexual immorality, and his main point is that God is with you, so you shouldn’t act like that anymore.
That’s a huge statement, and for more than just sex. It means that if God is with us than there are all kinds of implications for what kind of people we should be. From the Crusades cry of “God Wills It” on we’ve had the temptation to take our agenda and use God’s name to approve it.
But this is not the story of Bethlehem.
Go back and read Luke 1 and 2 this week. Notice the different reactions to the announcement that God is with Us. There is real sense in which that kind of announcement disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed. The Hitler’s and Herod’s of the world may try to use God to expand their petty kingdoms. They may exploit and abuse the little people because their power grows unchecked.
But beware of families huddled on the floor, or teenage girls with a baby in their belly.
Because who God is actually with is the surprise.
And that’s Christmas.
So for most of this month I’ve been reading for a sermon series for January. I’m wrestling through the book of Acts, which as you probably already know is the sequel to the book of Luke. I’m also doing some teaching for a Christmas series for our young adults…It’s amazing how well these two topics go together.
One of the most disappointing things about Acts for me is the way we’ve read it throughout the years. The fellowship that I grew up in had a pretty narrow idea of what Acts was about. We approached Scripture asking questions that it wasn’t trying to answer (which didn’t stop us from squeezing out some answers). We asked it what kind of church we should have for one hour out of the week. Or what kind of programs we should run.
But the more I read this book, the more I realize that there is a deep power in here that is little talked about.
And it all starts with a single mom.
When I used to hear people talk about Mary, I would immediately think about what she wasn’t. Like most Protestants, it was easier to write her off as just some obsolete character. But there is a reason that God tells her that she will be called “blessed” for all generations.
Mary, as an unwed teenager is approached by an angel. Which is enough to make most Bible characters pee their pants. But she isn’t so much afraid of the angel, as she is about his message: “The Lord is with you.”
Because she knows what it means to say that the Lord is with you. Some of the worst plot twists in Scripture are preceded by that promise. In the Old Testament, a guy named Joseph (not Mary’s husband) gets betrayed by his brothers, sold into Egyptian slavery, put into prison, and the refrain through the entire chapter is: “The Lord was with him.”
So these are not exactly comforting words.
But then Mary takes heart, girds up her loins, and sings.
But this is no lullaby. This is a girl who’s got a fire in her belly, not to mention the Messiah, and now she’s starting to get the picture about how big what God is up to actually is. So she sings about the things that YHWH has done in the past, and about the victories that he has won. She sings about how faithful He has always been, and how he cares for the “least of these.” She sings of God’s power, of his mercy, of his justice.
And all of this is before Mary has seen God do one single thing that she’s singing about.
Mary is hoping forward. To a better world, that is literally giving birth right inside of her.
And the rest of the story Luke is writing is about the people of God putting skin on Mary’s song.
Did you know that in some South American countries, the Magnificat is forbidden to be sung? It’s because tyrants know the danger of singing a song like this. Did you know that is South Africa Christmas songs were illegal during the era of apartheid?
I think it’s because the unjust systems of the world know something that we don’t. That the advent season isn’t just about tinsel, lights, and good deals at Wal-Mart. There is a revolutionary bent to this story. That God is up to something new and just and beautiful.
And we call it Christmas.