Posted in Chapel, Isaiah, Jesus, Luke, Peace, Pilgrimage

Deep Peace

I purchased this picture when I was in Pittsburgh for General Conference in 2004 taking a Candler course.  It says,

“Deep peace of the running wave to you

Deep peace of the flowing air to you

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you

Deep peace of the shining stars to you

Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.”

The picture says it’s “An Old Irish Prayer,” but using the internet I traced it back to the Iona Community.  Iona is a tiny and beautiful Hebridean island off the west coast of Scotland, cradle of Christianity in Scotland, where in 563AD the Irish monk Columba (Columkille) established a monastic settlement that evangelised large parts of Scotland and the north of England and became an important centre of European Christianity. In the Middle Ages it became the site of a Benedictine abbey, and over the centuries it has attracted many thousands of people on their own pilgrim journeys.  I have not been to Iona, but I’ve always wanted to take a pilgrimage there.  

As a campus minister, I took 3 campuses of students on pilgrimages to the United Methodist Seminar Program at the UN Church Center Building.  The New York Times wrote an article “Church Peace Center is Started on the East Side” in 1962 and its primary purpose was to give access to the U.N. to other faith communities and nongovernmental organizations working for human rights, development and peace.  Way back when I first started taking students there, you could see the different agencies like Oxfam and Church World Service in the elevator on different floors.

We did seminars on interreligious dialogue, human trafficking, race and urban poverty, gentrification, immigration, intimate partner violence, and art, spirituality and calling.  Our seminar designers had informative panels, exercises that made the students think out of their comfort zone, and chapels that dove into texts to start the day that gave a Biblical lens to each topic.

It was not just any ordinary chapel.  It’s on the ground floor of the building, founded, operated, and owned by the United Methodist Church, as a Christian and interfaith space.  On the outside of the Chapel is a large work, “Man’s Search for Peace” and it shows human-like shapes around a large eye-like form, but on the inside it’s all stained glass.   It was like the church with its eye on the United Nations making sure they acted in a just and peaceful manner.  On one side of their wall there’s etched into the building, the words of Isaiah 2:4, 

“He shall judge between the nations,

    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

    and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

    neither shall they learn war any more.”

Located in the center of the chapel, Jesus’ words when he was riding into Jerusalem, weeping as he exclaimed, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace.”  This verse, Luke 19:42, is etched into the wooden Bible stand. These words in the heart of the chapel serve as a constant reminder of why the faith community is present; to advance God’s peace in our hearts and in the world.  

May we have the Deep Peace that abiding in Jesus provides.  May we share with the world the peace that the Prince of Peace can only give.  The Deep Peace that the world so desperately needs as we all face trials or tribulations of many kinds.  We can lean into the safe arms of Jesus, our sure harbor in the midst of life’s storms, the Son of Peace.

Posted in Fellowship, Follow, God's Voice, Jesus, Jesus is Lord, Sermon

The Voice of the Lord

The Voice of the Lord

Scripture:  Psalm 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,

    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;

    worship the Lord in holy splendor.

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

    the God of glory thunders,

    the Lord, over mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;

    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;

    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,

    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;

    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,

    and strips the forest bare;

    and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;

    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

11 May the Lord give strength to his people!

    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Whose voice are you listening to?  We need to listen to the voice of the Lord.  But, how do we do that?

Tune in to Jesus.

Make Jesus Lord of your life.

Follow Jesus with your lives.

Whose voice are you listening to?

There are SO MANY voices swirling around in our heads and our lives.  Telling us what we need, competing voices telling us what we should believe, and peddling easy answers and quick fixes to our every desire.  Y’all know by now, I think of things first in song.  Three come to mind.  First, Casting Crown’s “Voice of Truth” 

But the voice of truth tells me a different story

The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”

The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”

Out of all the voices calling out to me

I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

And that Voice of Truth is named Jesus.  Second, Lauren Daigle’s “You Say”  

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough

Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up

Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low

Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing

You say I am strong when I think I am weak

And you say I am held when I am falling short

And when I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours

And I believe  

What You say of me 

I believe

Jesus says you are LOVED.  The world wants to turn you inside out and wants to make you doubt yourself.  And lastly, an oldie but a goody, particularly this week, “When the storms of life are raging, Stand By Me.”  

When the storms of life are raging,

stand by me; (stand by me)

when the storms of life are raging,

stand by me. (stand by me)

When the world is tossing me

like a ship upon the sea,

thou who rulest wind and water,

stand by me. (stand by me)

When the storms of life are raging, we need to listen to the word of the Lord.

We need to tune in to the voice of Jesus.  Erle Stanley Gardner, the famous mystery writer and creator of Perry Mason, was a lawyer himself. In his trial work, he had a partner with a rather remarkable skill. This lawyer could detect critical information in cross examination simply by listening to a person’s voice. This was information that went unnoticed by virtually everyone else. In an article in Vogue magazine, Gardner noted that in the years that this man was his partner, when they were in court together, this lawyer made it a point not to look at the witness on the stand. Instead he kept his eyes fixed on a piece of paper, sometimes taking down what the witness was saying in shorthand, sometimes simply doodling, but always listening to the voice of the witness.

At some stage in the examination, said Gardner, his partner would nudge him with his elbow. Invariably that meant that the witness was either lying at that point in the testimony, or was trying to cover up something. Gardner said his own untrained ears were never able to detect these subtle changes of voice and tempo, but his partner could spot them with a startling accuracy. 

We need to tune into that Voice of Truth.  As was illustrated with the songs, there’s all these voices going on in stereo inside our heads.  We don’t want to give in to the lies of the Enemy.  We need the wisdom and discernment to tune in to the voice of our Savior, Christ the Lord.

Remember Elijah in the wilderness. Fleeing from Queen Jezebel. Despondent, certain that God had forsaken him, hiding in a cave. Then suddenly there is a mighty wind, so mighty that it splits mountains and breaks rocks in pieces, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still, small voice. (1 Kings 19:12) But that voice found Elijah out there in the wilderness, turned his life around and made him a mighty voice for God.

There’s a story of a young man who lost his job and didn’t know which way to turn. So he went to see his pastor. Pacing about the preacher’s study, the young man ranted about his problem. Finally he clenched his fist and shouted, “I’ve begged God to say something to help me. Tell me, pastor, why doesn’t God answer?”

The older man, who sat across the room, spoke something in reply–something so hushed it was indistinguishable.

The young man stepped across the room. “What did you say?” he asked.

The pastor repeated himself, but again in a tone as soft as a whisper. So the young man moved closer until he was leaning on the pastor’s chair. “Sorry,” he said. “I still didn’t hear you.”

With their heads bent together, the old minister spoke once more: “God sometimes whispers,” he said, “so we will move closer to hear Him.”

This time the young man heard and he understood.

Draw near to God. Hear God speak to your deepest need. Hear God affirm your life. God’s voice. Is there any deeper need in our lives right now than to hear God speak words of healing and hope? Listen quietly. Listen closely. Hear Jesus speak your name today.

We need to tune in to the voice of Jesus, no matter the noise of the crowd, no matter the situation.  We need to block out the noise and FOCUS on the voice of truth.

If we are going to tune in to Jesus, then what follows or precedes is to make him Lord of our lives.  Remember Saul of Tarsus. He was known to persecute people of The Way until he was struck blind on the Road to Damascus. Then he heard a voice, in Acts 9:4-5, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

And Saul asks, “Who are you, Lord?”

And the voice said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” 

Saul who was transformed into Paul because he made Jesus the Lord of his life.  Paul was transformed from a man of violence to one who wrote in 1 Corinthians 13,  “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing . . .”  He underwent imprisonment, torture, shipwreck and he writes in Romans 14:8-9, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”  Paul had been transformed and he understood that we are the Lord’s.

Everyone that wants to become a pastor in the United Methodist Church is asked in our provisional paperwork, how do we interpret the statement Jesus Christ as Lord?  Jesus is the Lord of our lives.  We kneel and swear fealty to him as the knights of old to the King.  We are loyal, acting not in our best interest, but in the Lord’s who created heaven and earth and all that is within it.  We are not our own; we’ve been bought with a price.  And that’s not restrictive, it’s freeing.

Thomas Merton, monk and theologian, writes in “The Road Ahead,”  “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”  I want the Lord of the heavens and the earth, to be my Lord like that.  The Lord over every inch of my heart and my life.

If we tune into Jesus and make him the Lord of our lives, what naturally flows is following Jesus with our lives.

Our modern day example in walking the walk and talking the talk is Billy Graham.  Joseph Stowell, author of the book “Simply Jesus” once asked Billy Graham what had been the best experience of his entire ministry. It seems like a difficult question for the world’s most famous evangelist. Graham has preached in front of millions of people, traveled around the world many times, counseled presidents and kings. But Graham didn’t have to hesitate in his answer. He replied, “By far the greatest joy of my life has been my fellowship with Jesus. Hearing Him speak to me, having Him guide me, sensing His presence with me and His power through me. This has been the highest pleasure of my life!” 

Hearing Jesus speak to me.

Having Jesus guide me.

Sensing Jesus’ presence with me and Jesus’ power through me.

It’s not about our own power; it’s about the power of the Holy Spirit within us, igniting in us a passion that is not squelched by mere circumstance and situation, but it is a solid ever-present flame that the world is drawn to. If we tune in to Jesus and make him Lord of our lives then he will never leave nor forsake us and he will be an ever-present help in times of trouble.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders . . . The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness . . . The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl. . . But hear what’s at the end:  11May the Lord give strength to his people!  May the Lord bless his people with peace!”

I know this has been a difficult week and I know this has been a difficult year, but our Lord promises strength to his people and the Psalmist asks for the Lord to bless his people with peace.  If we stay rooted in Christ, we’ll have that peace that the Psalmist’s asking for.  We will have Jesus’s peace that transcends all understanding.  As it says in John 14:17, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  If we tune into Jesus, make him Lord of our lives, and follow him we will be accepting his call of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20.  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  His calling and his promise is clear.  We just have to listen to the voice of the Lord.

Posted in Arise, calling, Devotion, God, sin, strength

Rise Up – January 6th

I made a note in my notes on my iPhone when I heard this song on November 2nd.  It’s called “Rise Up (Lazarus)” by the group Cain.

In the dark and all alone, growing comfortable

Are you too scared to move and walk out of this tomb?

Buried underneath, the lies that you believed

Safe and sound, stuck in the ground

Too lost to be found

You’re just asleep and it’s time to leave

Come on and rise up, take a breath, you’re alive now

Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us

Out from the grave like Lazarus

You’re brand new, the power of death couldn’t hold you

Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us

Out from the grave like Lazarus

Rise up, rise up, rise up

Out from the grave like Lazarus

When He said your name, the thing that filled your veins

Was more than blood, it’s the kind of love that washes sin away

Now the door is open wide and the stones been rolled aside

The old is gone, the Light has come, so

Come on and rise up, take a breath, you’re alive now

Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us

Out from the grave like Lazarus

You’re brand new, the power of death couldn’t hold you

Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us

Out from the grave like Lazarus

Rise up (like Lazarus) rise up, rise up

Out from the grave like Lazarus

He’s calling us to walk out of the dark

He’s giving us new resurrected hearts, 

He’s calling us to walk out of the dark

He’s giving us new resurrected hearts,

Come on and rise up, take a breath, you’re alive now

Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us

Out from the grave like Lazarus

You’re brand new, the power of death couldn’t hold you

Can’t you hear the voice of Jesus calling us

Out from the grave like Lazarus

Rise up (He’s calling you out) rise up

Get me up from the grave like Lazarus

The lead singer, Logan explains the meaning behind the song:

“It’s this triumphant song about come on and rise up. My story is one of secret. As I felt myself feeling separated from God in cycles of destructive behavior & sin, the last thing I wanted to do was rise up. The last thing on earth that I wanted to do was to stand up and do what was right. When I feel defeated it’s easy for me to recluse, to become comfortable in that place but I know that the voice of Jesus is always gonna call me to rise up. If you hold onto that truth, that voice will get loud and it will eventually get louder than the voice that’s telling you to not rise up. There is no greater feeling of being alive than when you decide that I’m gonna take the power that’s given to me by the blood that was shed on the cross and I’m going to stand on top of this thing that has held me down. When you rise up anything that felt like life before that pales in comparison.” 

Scripture tells us that God is going to go with us when we rise up.

In Micah 7:8, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.”  When we fall, God will give us not only the strength to rise, but the Lord will be a light to me.

In Psalm 28:7, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.”  The Lord is going to be our strength and shield, an ever present help in times of trouble.  Our response is to trust him and give thanks and praise.

In Ezra 10:4,Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.” If those are not marching words, I don’t know what is.  Rise Up, Narcie and do the tasks I’ve laid out for you.  It has a tinge of buck up, buttercup.  “Be strong and do it.”  

We can offer all kinds of excuses and reasons and justifications to why we do some things and not do others, but when God places that sin on your heart or that calling on your life, we must act.  Do I need to recount the story of Jonah to you or for that matter the Israelites of the Old Testament?  God has the uncanny way of giving us a whisper, then a nudge, then signs a la Bruce Almighty, where God gave Bruce literal billboards and flashing road signs – God makes God’s presence known and we can run away as long as we want, God’s going to still love us and draw us toward God’s relational self – the extravagant, unconditional love and truly amazing and boundless grace.  

May God show where we need to rise up out of the sins that cling so tightly and may God give us the courage and fortitude to bring love, hope, peace, and joy to a hurting world and a radically divided country. May the Holy Spirit fall afresh on each of us as we rest in God’s mercy, love and grace.

Posted in Darkness, Epiphany, Isaiah, Light, Sermon

Arise, shine; for your light has come! – January 2nd

It’s beginning to not look like Christmas.  How many of you have put away your Christmas decorations?  We haven’t even begun to.  I’m not going to technically feel bad about it because it’s not Epiphany yet.  You see, not only do we observe Christmas, but the Christian calendar gives us twelve days of Christmas to span the time between Christ’s birth and the wise men coming to witness the birth not just of Israel’s deliverer, but of the whole world.  

These words from Isaiah were spoken to a specific people coming home from exile, but the words of Isaiah are quoted all through the New Testament in multiple ways to speak to all types of situations and the beauty with all scripture – it has a way of speaking to us afresh and anew if we let it.  The Word is open and alive for each of us.

Isaiah 60:1-6

1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,

    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,

    and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

    and his glory will appear over you.

Nations shall come to your light,

    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;

    they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from far away,

    and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant;

    your heart shall thrill and rejoice,

because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,

    the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you,

    the young camels of Midian and Ephah;

    all those from Sheba shall come.

They shall bring gold and frankincense,

    and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

An epiphany is a sudden manifestation or perception of the meaning of something or an intuitive grasp of reality through something usually simple and striking.  My simplified explanation is it’s an ah-hah moment.  Well, I’ll give you the three epiphanies or ah-hah moments or take-aways and lo and behold, they’re all 3 about Jesus.

Jesus dispels the darkness.

Jesus shines in our hearts.

Jesus calls us to be lighthouses shining God’s glory in and for the world.  

Jesus dispels the darkness.

Darkness is never easily dispelled. The Israelites could have said, “We’ve heard that before!” At the beginning of the book of Isaiah they had heard: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). That promise seemed like a quick fix before the darkness returned; and we know the feeling. We have heard these promises at Advent and Christmas, year after year. Does anything really change?  Did Covid-19 suddenly disappear or our loneliness in isolation or did we instantly drop the 19 pounds most of us gained during the pandemic when it turned into January 1st?  Nope.  It’s never as easy as waving a magic wand.

But have we ever really listened to the promises? It says you must “lift up your eyes and look around” (v. 4a) All the light in the world is no help if you don’t lift up your eyes and take a look around.  We have to look up to see the light.  It may be a speck on the horizon, it may be the light that we look for when the world is caving in on us.   What Isaiah saw was a glorious restoration for Jerusalem, a great homecoming for the Jews, a great ingathering of the Gentiles. But the reality – the hope of a glorious return with banners waving and confetti filling the air is far from what they found.  Enormous construction tasks and apathy at best from the ones who had stayed behind were beyond discouraging.  It would have been easy for them to give up, but they clung to God’s promises as we have to do too.   

Jesus shines in our hearts.

I’ve had a quote at the end of my email since I created it in 2012.  It’s from Archbishop Desmond Tutu – “Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through Him who loves us.”  But if I don’t truly believe that Jesus dispels all the darkness in our lives, if I don’t truly believe in the promises of God, then those are just empty words on a tagline.  I’m not talking about momentary bits of doubt or discouragement, that the Lord will lead us through with a song, a piece of scripture, a call from a friend, a sunrise, we have to look up and around to see all of God’s workings in our lives. 

Isaiah 60:19

19 The sun shall no longer be

    your light by day,

nor for brightness shall the moon

    give light to you by night;

but the Lord will be your everlasting light,

    and your God will be your glory.

But the Lord will be YOUR everlasting light, and YOUR God will be your glory.  We realize, don’t we, that they and we did not choose this on our own.  This is a unilateral action on the part of God, that is available to each of us, because God sent his Son to be the light of the world.  This new identity as children of the light was given by God; not achieved by them. This new identity is also God’s free gift to us through the light of the world, Jesus Christ. Our new, God-given identity is not given by others’ perceptions. It is given by God in Jesus Christ.

As Matt Maher wrote in the song the began played, “One star burns in the darkness

Shines with the promise, Emmanuel

One child born in the stillness

Living within us, Emmanuel

We’re singing glory, glory

Let there be peace, let there be peace

Singing glory, glory

Let there be peace, let it start in me

If Jesus shines in our hearts, then we will have peace.  It may not always seem like it, but we can have God’s peace, Christ’s peace and love and joy ever in the midst in all of life’s storms.

    Jesus calls us to be lighthouses shining God’s glory in and for the world. 

One of the most prolific songwriters of the nineteenth century was Fanny Crosby. She was the daughter of John and Mercy Crosby from Putnam County, New York. Fanny was born on March 24, 1820. At age six weeks she became sick with a cold, causing inflammation of her eyes. The family doctor was out of town so a doctor unfamiliar with the Crosby family came. He recommended the use of hot poultices, which destroyed her sight. Growing up in a sightless world did not deter Fanny Crosby; she would not let anyone feel sorry for her. At the age of fifteen, she entered the New York Institution for the Blind, where she earned an excellent education. She became a teacher in the Institution in 1847 and continued her work until March 1, 1858. She taught English grammar, rhetoric, and Roman and American history. During this period of her life she began to develop a passion for songwrit­ing and poetry.

Fanny Crosby wrote over 4,000 hymns in her lifetime. She had a intimate relationship with Jesus Christ since childhood, and it shows in her hymns. She wrote the songs, “Safe In The Arms Of Jesus,” “Rescue The Perishing,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour,” “Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross,” “Blessed As­surance,” and more. Another of her hymns, “To God Be The Glory” is one that the prophet Isaiah could have related to very well. Sing with her words:

To God be the glory, great things he hath done!

So loved he the world that he gave us His Son,

who yielded his life an atonement for sin,

and opened the lifegate that all may go in.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,

to every believer, the promise of God;

The vilest offender who truly believes,

that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done,

and great our rejoicing thru Jesus, the Son;

but purer, and higher, and greater will be

our wonder, our transport when Jesus we see!

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord;

let the earth hear His voice!

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord;

let the people rejoice!

O come to the Father thru Jesus the Son,

and give him the glory — great things he hath done!

Fanny Crosby may not have been able to see the glory of God with her eyes, but she was a lighthouse of God’s love to the world!   She was one of my lighthouses when I went through my cancer treatments and did this little art project.  (Thanks, Beth Bostrom!)

We can all shine the light of God’s love. We can all be lighthouses.  We don’t have to burn ourselves out shining everywhere, lighthouses don’t do that.  Lighthouses shine the light to guide ships home.  And as we have the opportunity to do that with others it’s only because we are a reflection of the True Light of the World.  Jesus dispels all of the darkness, shines His love into our hearts and gives us the love, grace, strength, and peace to shine God’s light in the world as God’s Lighthouses.  “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!”  Amen.

Posted in Covenant, John Wesley, New Year

Wesley Covenant Prayer – January 1st

Following the lead of the Moravian Brethren who began having “watch” services in 1733, John Wesley, created watch night services, sometimes calling them Covenant Renewal Services.  They would typically happen on New Year’s Eve to give people an opportunity to look back over the past year, confessing their sins, remembering God’s blessings and renewing their commitment to Christ for the new year.  Typical services often included prayer, scripture, song, proclamation, and sometimes a Moravian Love Feast, but always included a time of personal covenant.  The Wesley Covenant Prayer is a practical description of what Jesus was talking about when he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). 

“I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things

to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

  • Wikipedia and http://www.umc.org were used for this post. For more info, as well as a contemporary version of the Wesley Covenant Prayer look at wikipedia.
Posted in Mary Magnificat, Sermon, Waiting

4th Sunday of Advent – Waiting at the Threshold

We finally made it to the week of Christmas. 

Hallelujah!  

When we were little we gathered for Christmas at my grandparent’s house.  I remember not being able to go to sleep that night and us reading “The Night Before Christmas” in my grandmother’s house.  The house was packed with aunts, uncles, and cousins.  We would gather at Greeleyville United Methodist Church for the Christmas Eve service.  When we went to Cypress Gardens Assisted Living and were singing Christmas carols, I heard Annette Goins’ strong alto singing voice, and it brought back a wave of memories of me standing between my mom and grandmother singing alto.  I remember most of the alto parts of “Joy to the World” and “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” but that’s about it.

We were the only grandkids back then and my uncle Jim (Bubba) had this fancy new video camera.  (It was back in the 80’s.)  We had to wait on the stairs until they got the cameras set up.  It took FOREVER.  It was like a million years to a kid, but probably more like 5 minutes.  My grandfather loved to see our faces and used his principal-voice to keep us from bursting through the door.  Waiting on the threshold seems like it’s taking forever, but we’ve come so far.  Waiting all year for Santa Claus to come.  The eager anticipation.  Because you know something good is waiting for you on the other side.  In this text, we see Mary as she finds out the news from Gabriel and then she sings her song of praise.  It’s not cheesy Hallmark greeting cards or Christmas movies.  It is powerfully prophetic, muchless from a teenage girl.

Luke 1:26-38, 46-56

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

    and holy is his name.

50 His mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Bill Wolf wrote one of the songs we’re going to sing on Christmas Eve, “A Baby Will Come,” while he was preparing a sermon on Mary’s Magnificat.  He writes, “As I researched the social climate of Israel in the late first century B.C., I was overcome with how dire the lives of the Israelites had been. Between the brutal conquests of the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus and the obscene taxation of Herod, King of Judea, the Israelites were enslaved once again, this time in their own backyard.

These were God’s people clinging to God’s promises, and yet life seemed to get harder and harder as the weight of oppression grew heavier and heavier. The Promised Land no longer felt like the Promised Land. Doubt began to set in.

It was into this climate that a young adolescent girl was visited by an angel of God and told that she would give birth to a baby boy. She was told His very name would be “Salvation” for her and for her people.

In a moment of joy and restraint, Mary sat down and reflected on what the angel had told her as she began to pen this poem. It is the first Christmas song ever written. It is a beautiful song; a poem that is on one hand personal and introspective, but on the other hand, charged with social and politically revolutionary language.

This was not a timid, scared little girl.

I had this phrase in my head, “The kings of the world have torn it apart. But take heart, a baby will be born.” How absurd of a thought is that? A baby? Yet that is the promise Mary was given. That is promise we have been given.”

And the baby grew to be a man that fulfilled his mother’s song.  The man whose mother, Mary burst out with a spontaneous song of praise, sets us captives free. The people of Israel waited for the promised Messiah and that promise was fulfilled in Jesus. We are waiting still, for Jesus to come again, we’re standing on the threshold for the time in Revelation 21:3-4 describes, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

I did a funeral for a 20 year old yesterday.  The chapel at Parks funeral home was packed as was the Summerville Cemetery when I did the graveside.  He was the youngest of 4 brothers.  The daughter-in-law who read the words of her mother-in-law, had experienced her own loss.  She had a son born with a heart condition.  He died a week after his first heart surgery.  How to offer comfort and peace to a grieving family who’s been through so much?  It’s a simple name.  Jesus.  Fully human and fully divine.  Because I live, you will live also.  That’s our hope, that’s our joy, that’s our peace, because of God’s abundant love, God sent Jesus to earth and Jesus took on our sins and defeated death, so we might live through him.  Hear the Good News in that?  It’s revolutionary.  Jesus flipped the script.  Evil thought it had won, but Jesus came.  A baby was born.

It may be hard to find the good these days.

“Daniel Tiger” is a PBS spin-off from the prior Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. On the show, the characters say this phrase over and over again to each other and to the young children watching: “When something seems bad, turn it around, and make something good!” 

In one episode, Daniel goes to the bakery and chooses the best birthday cake in the shape of a tiger just like him. He helps mold it until it looks stunning. He carries it home, but it gets jostled about a bit, and when he opens the box, the cake is sunken and misshapen. And his friends will be there any moment!

Daniel is devastated. His cake is ruined. But his father reminds him, “When something seems bad, turn it around, and find something good!”

“Daniel, can you find something good still in this cake?”

Daniel at first has a hard time….but then he realizes, it still tastes good! He samples it to see. No matter how it looks, it’s still a great cake, and he shares it with his friends.

I don’t know about you, but the further we get into this pandemic, my default, my resting place, is negative – tinged with bitterness.  If I were Daniel Tiger, I might have looked above and shouted, “What else can go wrong?”  We need the Holy Spirit to blow peace into our hearts, minds and lives.We all need those reality checks of God reminding us…..look further. Taste and see that the Lord is good! The Lord is faithful. As we await the gift of Christmas morning, let us eagerly anticipate Jesus’ second coming, with hearts wide open to sharing the good news that the angels sang about.  Good news of great joy for ALL people!  As we wait in the threshold, we won’t be disappointed because the gift as scripture tells us in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” We need to share that gift of Jesus, our Emmanuel, with everyone so they can come and know our Savior.  It’s like this Advent candle, we need to carry our lights of hope, our beacons of love, our fires of joy, and our flames of peace to a hurting world to tell them about a Savior that came down to earth, to set us free from our sin, and we can be with him, now and forevermore.  Our very lives depend on Jesus, our Emmanuel, our God with us.

Posted in Advent, God, Joy

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

    because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

    to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

    and release to the prisoners;

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

    and the day of vengeance of our God;

    to comfort all who mourn;

3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—

    to give them a garland instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,

    they shall raise up the former devastations;

they shall repair the ruined cities,

    the devastations of many generations.

8 For I the Lord love justice,

    I hate robbery and wrongdoing;

I will faithfully give them their recompense,

    and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations,

    and their offspring among the peoples;

all who see them shall acknowledge

    that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,

    my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,

    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,

    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots,

    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise 

to spring up before all the nations.

Evy doesn’t like us to decorate before her birthday, November 30th, but we talked her into decorating early because we and the world need so much joy right now.  We’ve cleaned up our mess, now we get to enjoy our decked out halls.

Why do we decorate our homes, our sanctuaries, our offices or cubicles, even our notebooks, we want the world to know who we are.  We want to invite them in.  We want to celebrate with them.  We want to put our best foot forward with a complete, clean picture.  At first glance, this Isaiah passage does that.  It’s all happy, happy, rah, rah, renewal, bridegroom decks himself with garland and the bride adorns herself with jewels, but is the whole book of Isaiah like that.  No!

Isaiah answers when he heard God say, “Whom shall I send?”  “Hear I am; send me!”  He’s what they call a major prophet.  Not just for the size of his book, but for his words and importance in the life of Israel.  He was a prophet that defended the people of Israel more than anyone and the people of Israel were in the midst of their spin cycle of sin.  You know how it is.  God is faithful, a covenant making God.  The covenant with Noah to not flood the Earth again and the covenant with Abraham to make his descendants like the dust of the earth by day and the stars of the sky by night.  The Israelites will be God’s people and Yahweh will be their God.  Hadn’t he delivered them from Egypt?  Hadn’t he provided manna and quail for them to eat?  Hadn’t Moses struck the rock and water streamed forth when they complained of being thirsty?  They follow God for what seems like a second and then turn away and disobey.  Then God sends a prophet to speak to Kings and to the people.  Sometimes the prophets break through and repentance happens but more often than not, they don’t.  Most of the book of Isaiah he’s warning them and despair and destruction are happening.  He mixes messages of hope of things to come with messages of anguish.  Like Isaiah 9:2-3, “The people who walked in darkness

    have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness—

    on them light has shined.

 You have multiplied the nation,

    you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

    as with joy at the harvest.”

And later on in the same chapter:

For a child has been born for us,

    a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

    and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,

    and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.

    He will establish and uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

    from this time onward and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

God gives them hope, about One to come.  But they, like we, are easily discouraged.  Even during this pandemic, I wish I could snap my fingers and everything would be back to normal.  It’s hard crafting a new normal, a new rhythm, a new way of being.  It’s hard when all that’s around you is changed.  I watch movies now and wonder why they’re not social distancing or wearing masks, but the tv show Monk was ahead of its time.  It’s hard to not get down in the dumps or in a funk during these strange times.

It’s hard going back to a ghost town.  I used to take the scenic routes to South Carolina when I lived in Florida.  I would see these once thriving, bustling communities on the railroad route or these textile plants which have long since shut down and wonder what it was like 100 years ago.

This is nothing compared to the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was deserted. The strong walls, which had held back invading armies for years, had been pulled down. The HolyTemple, the house of God, had been desecrated and was now only a shell. The Babylonians had destroyed the city and scattered the people to a distant land.

After years in exile, the people were returning home to a land that was devastated. They were resolved to begin the task of rebuilding, but they were getting discouraged, and TIRED, just as we are.  They want to snap their fingers and go back to their normal lives.  They’ve been in exile, now they’re back.

The story is told about Betty Hutton, a former movie star and box office attraction of the late ’40s and ’50s. Hutton fell on hard times and battled alcoholism and depression. A few years ago she encountered God and invited him into her life. God turned her life around and headed her in a different direction. She started on the trail to a comeback. Hutton joined the cast of the Broadway musical Annie, playing the role of Mrs. Hannigan. Those who were in attendance at the first performance noted the extensive biographical sketches of the members of the cast. However, under the picture of Betty Hutton there was no elaborate sketch. Instead, there appeared five words which Hutton had written herself. Those words were: “I’m back. Thanks to God.”

God has Isaiah sprinkles these promises in because God doesn’t ever want us to ever want us to be discouraged and despondent; God wants us to cling to God’s promises in the dark days, in the days when doubt and despair overwhelm us.  God promises joy in our mourning.  Isaiah says,

“God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

    to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

    and release to the prisoners;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

    and the day of vengeance of our God;

    to comfort all who mourn;

to provide for those who mourn in Zion—

    to give them a garland instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

It echoes Psalm 30:11, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;

You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.”

God didn’t abandon God’s people and God doesn’t abandon us.  God loved us enough to send God’s own son, Jesus to make our joy complete.  Joy is not happiness, it’s rooted in something much deeper.  It’s roots go all the way to our hearts and it is rooted to our very beings.  Sometimes its hard to imagine how we are going to feel any joy again. 

In the darkest days of my second brain surgery, my mother recounts the first time I laughed. We were sitting in the den all together and he said something, as he is want to do, and I laughed. That’s a simple thing. Even babies do it. But that was SUCH A BIG DEAL. In those dark days, when I couldn’t speak, when I had to read a paragraph at Speech Therapy in tell him what it said, and I lost my right arm and hand movement, so I couldn’t even shave my legs…things that we all take for granted, my laughter gave my mom some much-needed hope.

We have to let ourselves feel the peace, love, hope, and joy of this Advent season.  We have to start living. We have to live into the new reality of NOW. The Israelites came back to a new reality, but with God’s help they got through it and decked their halls and with God’s help we will get through whatever we’re wading through and deck our halls.  My prayer for you this season, is whenever joy comes into your life, you will cling to it, you will grasp it with both hands.  “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;”  Joy in Jesus is just foretaste to Heaven. 

Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King!

Posted in Deliverer, God's love, Good News, Jesus, Light, Lonely, Love, Messiah, pain

Love Has Come – God with Us

A song I’ve heard recently on the radio is by We are Messengers and its called “God With Us.”  It could have been written now during the pandemic, but it was actually written in 2016.

He is with us in the season

When silence fills the home

When the lights that you once loved

Leave you aching and alone

He is with us in the distance

Between two shattered hearts

When you’re standing in the same room

But half a world apart

He is with us always

In our joy and in our pain

In the lonely midnight keep looking up

Love has come, God with us

Love has come, God with us

He is with us when the evening falls

And all the laughter fades

When the emptiness comes creeping back, creeping back

And just steals your joy away

He is with us always

In our joy and in our pain

In the lonely midnight keep looking up

Love has come, God with us

Love has come, God with us

Come on hold on now

Won’t you just stay strong

No matter how it feels, He is with us

And what you’re facing now

Know you’re not alone

Let this be your hope, He is Emmanuel

He is with us always

In our joy and in our pain

In the lonely midnight keep looking up

Love has come, God with us

Love has come, God with us

This week was filled with sickness, grief, and mounting death tolls, reminding us that we need a Savior that comes and meets us where we are, Emmanuel, God with us.  The scripture on our Advent calendar for today comes from Romans 8:38-39 and is one of my favorites, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Nothing this world throws at us will be able to separate us from that love.  No amount of pain or suffering can ever separate us.  God always wins.  Light always prevails.  No matter what, good always conquers evil….albeit eventually sometimes, but it does.

I experienced the joy of the Living Christmas Story last night.  Villagers, Angels, Mary and Joseph, Gabriel, Shepherds, Wise Men, King Herod, the Innkeeper and his wife, the Census takers, the Roman Soldiers, and of course the animals.  Spreading the joy of the Christmas Story.  I encourage you to come out and see it tonight from 6:30 – 8:30 or tomorrow night from 5:30 – 8:30.  Participate or come see the greatest story ever told.  Follow the star, look to the star, it points to the coming Messiah, our Deliverer.  How God loves us so much that God sent God’s Son to come dwell among us, in all of our human frailties and all of our sin.  Jesus took our sin upon himself, was crucified and then was resurrected on the third day.  Because he lives, we live also.  He set us free from sin and death.  Praying, giving thanks, serving, and singing praises are often ways to dispel the darkness around us and within us.  The world desperately needs hope, joy, peace and love this Christmas and it’s up to us, moving in and with the Holy Spirit to show those Advent blessings, to bring light and to deliver the Good News that love has come, God with Us.

Posted in Emmanuel, God's love, Jesus, Just Because, Love

Love Came Down – Wednesday Night Advent Service

1 John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Love Came Down

I would listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums as I decorated my Ganny’s tree and decorated her house for Christmas from my freshman year at Winthrop 1998, when she broke her back, through Evy’s first Christmas in 2008 when she was weeks old until Ganny died in September 2009.  We celebrated at her house that one last Christmas.  Ganny and I had a special relationship from our love of books and tv shows to the latest snack food.  We were kindred spirits.  We were both oldest daughters with two younger brothers and had similar tastes in everything, even our love of knick knacks.  I grew closer to my grandparents during these times of decorating and on the trips I took in college to stay with them.  They showed me their great and unconditional love.  

This scripture passage tells us much about God’s love.  God is love.  God sent God’s own son Jesus, not because of anything we did or did not do, just because.  Have you ever had a “just because” love?  No matter what, no matter what you did or you didn’t do, no matter what you were loved.  Just because….you were YOU.  You were fearfully made for God’s purpose.  God knit you together in your mother’s womb and knows every hair on your head.  My Ganny and Gandaddy loved us grandkids enough to count every hair on our heads, to kiss away our boo boos, and to show us that “just because” kind of love.  Just because we were their’s, just because we are God’s, God’s love for us knows no bounds.  Even when we frustrated the heck out of them or they were disappointed in us, we still had their unconditional love, just because.  It was never a question.  Ganny said at my Gandaddy’s visitation, “Walk around and let the people see y’all.  He talked about y’all all the time.  People talk about someone being the “apple of my eye,” well, y’all were his very eyeballs.” 

In verse 12 of our passage it says, “12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”  I saw God and God’s love, I felt God’s love, I KNEW God’s unconditional love in my Ganny and Gandaddy.  And you know what, I can see them again, because of God’s great love for us.  God sent Jesus to atone for our sins on the cross so we can live with Him for eternity.  That shows and proves God’s great love for us.  On her first Christmas album, Amy Grant wrote “Love Has Come” with Shane Keister and Michael W. Smith.  They get more and more excited as the song goes on and by the end they’re blaring out, 

“Love has come
For the world to know
As the wise men knew
Such a long time ago
And I believe that angels sang
That hope had begun
When the God of glory
Who is full of mercy
Yes, the God of glory
Sent his Son

And they throw in, “Don’t you know?”  and “I believe that!”  It was the 80’s.  It fit.

But isn’t that the point – that we show God’s love to others and they turn and show it to others and so on and so on.  It’s the biggest show and tell in history and we GET to be a part of the story.  We get to be ACTIVE participants in the Greatest Story Ever Told.  Sharing God’s love all over the place – love is baked into the desserts we make for Katie’s Krops, love inspires us to write a note of encouragement to a friend in need, love leads us to pray for the sick, the hurting, and the broken, LOVE HAS COME to DWELL AMONG US.

Our Advent verse today is from Psalm 26 verses 2-3, “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.”  Your steadfast love is before my eyes and I walk in faithfulness to you.  The Triune God’s steadfast love is before our eyes, how can we not walk in faithfulness?  If we don’t show the world God’s great love for them, who will?  If we don’t tell them about Jesus, our Emmanuel, who came down to Earth, the Great God of the Universe, a helpless baby, Jesus came and dwelt among us, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  He transforms everything and makes us new creations if we but put our hope and faith in him.  My grandparent’s “just because” love is just a taste of our Savior’s love.  The depth of God’s love is unfathomable and we rejoice in that when we take part in this Holy meal.  “For God so loved the world…”

Posted in Darkness, Flashlight, God's love, Jesus, John the Baptist, Joy, Light, Love, Prepare

Clean Up Crew

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way;

3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

    make his paths straight,’”

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark read this passage at the Advent service last Wednesday.  It’s a very familiar passage this time of year.  Mary and Elizabeth her cousin were pregnant at the same time.  Luke 1:13-17, “13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  Further down in Luke, Gabriel was talking to Mary and said, “36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And even further down in the 1st Chapter of Luke, “39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

The child leaped for joy!  John leaped for joy after hearing Mary’s voice?  Do you think women nested back then?  Tidying up, organizing, preparing….John comes to prepare us for Jesus.  As we make preparations to Welcome Jesus and Welcome one and all this Christmas!  We prepare our hearts to Welcome the One who knows us intimately and still loves us with an abundant and steadfast love. We need a clean up crew to prepare a place in our hearts for Jesus and to prepare to show the world the love that Jesus has for them.

We put up the tree after church last Sunday.  We may have bitten off more than we can chew.  It’s taken us all week to put up the Christmas decorations.  We first have to unpack the Christmas decorations to store the “regular” stuff we have away.  Enoch and Mike tackled the outside and discovered the lights in a whole section were blown.  Evy and I tackled the tree and we discovered the lights had different plugs so Evy decorated the banister with those lights.  Stuff was piled up everywhere…all week…they had virtual school…it never seems like we have another hour in the day.  We’ll have no parties at the house this year, we have no family coming in, we’re preparing for ourselves and most importantly for Jesus.

The first lines of Joy to the World – “Joy to the world, the Lord is come; Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room.”  Let every heart prepare Him room.  

How do we prepare our hearts?

Focus – It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle, even this year, we can fill our to-do list up to the top and not leave Him, Jesus room.  I always love any Amy Grant Christmas song, particularly her “I Need a Silent Night.”

I need a silent night, a holy night

To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise

I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here

To end this crazy day with a silent night

We need to intentionally, carve time out time to be with Jesus – our wonderful counselor, everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.  Our Old Testament reading for today is

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,

    says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

    and cry to her

that she has served her term,

    that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

    double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,

    and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

    and the rough places a plain.

5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

    and all people shall see it together,

    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out!”

    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

All people are grass,

    their constancy is like the flower of the field.

7 The grass withers, the flower fades,

    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;

    surely the people are grass.

8 The grass withers, the flower fades;

    but the word of our God will stand forever.

9 Get you up to a high mountain,

    O Zion, herald of good tidings;

lift up your voice with strength,

    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,

    lift it up, do not fear;

say to the cities of Judah,

    “Here is your God!”

10 See, the Lord God comes with might,

    and his arm rules for him;

his reward is with him,

    and his recompense before him.

11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;

    he will gather the lambs in his arms,

and carry them in his bosom,

    and gently lead the mother sheep.

God comforts us.  God if our good shepherd.  God carries us in God’s arms.  Maybe this Christmas it’s hard to feel any kind of Christmas Spirit – the hope, the love, the joy, the peace.  Maybe you’re experiencing grief of a loved one, a job loss, a change in health status, maybe you’re feeling bbllllaaahhhhhhh, maybe you’re feeling discouraged, maybe you’re feeling frustrated, maybe you’re holding all the fear and worry wrapped up under a facade, Jesus knows.  Jesus is our Emmanuel.  God with us.  Do y’all know how important that is?  The Great God of the Universe  came down to dwell with us.  Love came down at Christmas.  Love all lovely, Love Divine, Love was born at Christmas, Star and Angels gave the sign.  We can lay our burdens down Jesus’ feet.  We can cry out to Jesus because he knows our pain intimately.  We can even question God, like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He knows.  He knows the fullness of God and the fullness of humanity. Jesus has a purpose and a calling; he embodied God’s love and wants us to do that too.  

Father Gregory Boyle tells the story of a young man named Pedro. Caught in the gang life on the streets of Los Angeles, Pedro was filled with rage and resentment that he covered up with addiction to crack cocaine. Whenever Father Boyle would offer to take Pedro to rehab, he would decline.

Until one day, Pedro changed his answer and began the long, hard journey of returning to himself. Thirty days into Pedro’s rehab, his younger brother, caught up in similar demons, took his own life. When Father Boyle called with the news, Pedro was devastated.

Father Boyle later was driving Pedro to the funeral when Pedro began to tell Boyle about a dream he had the night before. In the dream, Pedro and Father Boyle are in a large empty room, alone. There are no lights, no windows. It is complete, total darkness. In the dark silence, Father Boyle takes a flashlight from his pocket and turns it on. Slowly, deliberately, he shines the flashlight around the room until its narrow beam illuminates a light switch on the wall. No words are spoken, no explanation offered, just a beam of light revealing a switch on the wall. In the dream, Pedro stands up slowly, with some trepidation he makes his way to the switch, takes a deep breath, he flips it on. The room is flooded with light.

At this point in the retelling of his dream, Pedro is sobbing. With a voice of astonishing discovery, he said, “And the light is better than the darkness.” As if he did not know this before. Then he said, “I guess my brother just never found the switch.”

Boyle writes, “Possessing flashlights and occasionally knowing where to aim them has to be enough for us. We all find ourselves in this dark, windowless room, fumbling for grace and flashlights. You aim the light this time, I’ll do it the next.”

We do not have to do it on our own.  The Holy Spirit prepares the way and intercedes for us when we are in the darkness with sighs too deep for words and also gives us a community to lean on and to depend on.

Richard Rohr writes, “But after any true God experience, you know that you are a part of a much bigger whole. Life is not about you; you are about life. You are an instance of a universal and even eternal pattern. Life is living itself in you. It is an earthquake in the brain, a hurricane in the heart, a Copernican revolution of the mind, and a monumental shift in consciousness. Frankly, most do not seem interested.

Understanding that your life is not about you is the connection point with everything else. It lowers the mountains and fills in the valleys that we have created, as we gradually recognize that the myriad forms of life in the universe, including ourselves, are operative parts of the One Life that most of us call God. After such a discovery, I am grateful to be a part — and only a part! I do not have to figure it all out, straighten it all out, or even do it perfectly by myself. I do not have to be God.

It is an enormous weight off my back. All I have to do is participate! My holiness is first of all and really only God’s, and that’s why it is certain and secure — and always holy. It is a participation, a mutual indwelling, not an achievement or performance on my part.

After this epiphany, things like praise, gratitude, and compassion come naturally — like breath and air. True spirituality is not taught; it is caught once our sails have been unfurled to the Spirit. Henceforth, our very motivation and momentum for the journey toward holiness and wholeness is just immense gratitude — for already having it!”

Love lived out is showing compassion, empathy, kindness, bravery, patience, and humility.  Just as John paved the way for Jesus 2,000 years ago, we have the direct calling to pave the way for Jesus today!  We each need to pick up our brooms and sweep away our doubts and fears.  We need to pick up our shovels and shovel out love to the world.  We need to vacuum complacency and apathy and use windex to wipe away our tears so we can see clearly that we have a story to tell.  It’s not a picture perfect Stepford story, but it’s real, with all the twists and turns of life.  We’ll show the world love in active, practical ways – as we worship, as we pray, as we serve – whether it be helping with Living Christmas Story, or the Angel Tree or baking cookies for Katie’s Krops, or bringing food to the Blessing Box.  We WILL prepare the way for Jesus by a GREAT Big Show and Tell.  We will Show our love with our actions and we will Tell it by sharing God’s great love.

Rachel Held Evans writes this prayer that pretty much sums up our calling. “God, go with us. Help us to be an honor to the church. Give us the grace to follow Christ’s word, to be clear in our task and careful in our speech. Give us open hands and joyful hearts. Let Christ be on our lips. May our lives reflect a love of truth and compassion. Let no one come to us and go away sad. May we offer hope to the poor, and solace to the disheartened. Let us so walk before God’s people, that those who follow us might come into God’s kingdom. Let us sow living seeds, words that are quick with life, that faith may be the harvest in people’s hearts. Amen.”

We need to prepare the way for love.  It’s like we walk down a dark, windy, steep path leaving bread crumbs along the way so our fellow travelers know which way to go.  We know the way, because love came down at Christmas, and showed us the way, the way that leads to love, peace, joy, and hope.  The way that leads us home.