Brilliant! They won’t be expecting that!

 Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9:2-7

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
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.

These are familiar words that we often hear at a Christmas Eve service.  These are some of my favorite words of the Advent season.  You see, because we all have walked in deep darkness, the color of ink, and we have felt the light of Christ pierce that darkness.  Our darkness.  The world’s darkness.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas to me.  Christmas is supposed to be cold.  Evy, my 5 year old, is really expecting it to snow on Christmas Eve.  I don’t know where she’s gotten that information, whether from a book or a song or a movie, but she’s convinced of this.  Guess where we’re spending Christmas?  In lovely Gainesville, Florida.  The likelihood that she’ll see snow on Christmas Eve is slim to none.  Mike didn’t feel like it was Christmas yet with the 80 degree whether that we’ve been having so he started playing Christmas music in the house, much like the radio stations that try to cram Christmas music down our throats until we’re being sufficiently festive.  But I have to admit, in my Grinch-like heart, to feeling slightly in the Christmas spirit, on Friday and Saturday as we finally had a chance to decorate and as Amy Grant’s Christmas albums played on the itunes.

You see, Advent is that time of preparation.  Of preparing our hearts, whatever way that gets us to turn the world off for a second, whatever hook we need to expect the unexpected.  This is a preparation that’s not just about the everyday hustle and bustle but also about getting ready for something completely out of this world—something revolutionary, new, an in-breaking of the kingdom of God.  We get ready for the coming of God in the form of a baby—a God who dwells among us and with us.  But we also get ready for the second coming of our savior—a time when there is good news and great joy for ALL people.  This is good news not just for the pretty ones or smart ones or the ones lucky enough to be born on the right side of the tracks or in the wealthy country, but for all of God’s children.

I think of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wisemen, the angels – a mix of folks.  I think of the words of the prophet—to look to the star and that there is One who is coming who is beyond our imagining.  This story is not just one of familiar and beautiful manger scenes and it’s certainly not just a good children’s story.  These were trying times and people were being taxed and children lost lives as Herod began his search for the Christ child.

How many of you have seen Catching Fire?  This is the second movie in The Hunger Games trilogy.  I’ve still not seen it yet.  Suzanne Collins does an amazing job bringing this post-apocalyptic world to life.  She got the idea from flipping through channels on her television and seeing on one channel a reality tv competition and on the next channel footage of the Iraq war.  Her stories are not for the faint of heart.  They are violent and graphic and terrifying.  It’s people being forced to send their children off to fight to the death.  Mike and I looked forward to the first movie, but we both felt uneasy after watching that being portrayed on screen.  And you’re supposed to be uneasy with it.

But that’s not much different from the context Jesus arrived in.  Here these people were under Roman control, not knowing what was going to be demanded of them next—their money, their children, their lives.  The thing about the books—there’s no savior at the end.  For some of us, we relate to some of these horrors.  There are hard things that we see every day whether it be children going without food or the loss of a friend or loved one or the loss of one’s job or home.  For some this isn’t just a hustling and bustling time of year, but it’s a painful time.  That’s there.  That’s part of the story.  Pain and hurt and fear are there.  For so many their Christmas traditions have a missing void as new traditions are made and a new normal is established.

We take comfort in that we are told very clearly, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people.  For unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord and has name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace…”  This Prince of Peace can give us that peace that transcends all understanding whether it be as we are awaiting that class exam that is for our particularly hard class, grades or exam results, health questions, job changes, life decisions or larger questions like what are we going to be when we grow up and what’s my purpose and what is the meaning of life.

This kind of peace can transform the world.  Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday, said “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”  We give others the courage to do the same.  Mandela lived his life in a way that inspired others to let their light shine.  Not just people in this place, in this community, or in this land—but all the world.  My hope over this Christmas break is that in the midst of everything as students are catching up on sleep and connecting with family and friends and as all of us frantically try to make it through, that we can find time to stop and breathe and take in what it means to be a people who believe in this Emmanuel, a people who believe and live out this peace.

Alex Miller sent me this video this past week.

“I feel so far away from my kids down there.”

God almighty, God the creator of the universe, God that was, and is, and is to come – came to earth as a tiny baby.  The most vulnerable thing on Earth.

I LOVE it when the kid says, “Brilliant!  They won’t be expecting that!”

I also love the little girl’s question to God, “Lord, how will people know he’s there, what if they don’t notice?”  God answers, “Those who are looking will find him and his mission will bring all people closer to me, even if they do something really wrong.  When the Prince (of Peace) is done, nothing will get between them and my love.”

Love came down on Christmas.  Amen and amen.

“Peace On Earth” – Casting Crowns

Extended Version of the Christmas Story

 

Christ the WAY

img_jesus_is_the_way

Isaiah 11:1-10

11A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Matthew 3:1-6

3In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

In verse 4 of Matthew chapter 3 it says, “Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” Call me crazy. I discovered this purely by accident. But when John the Baptist is described I happen to envision my brother Josh. As I sat thinking about how I would describe John the Baptist, Josh immediately came to mind, for whatever reason. Perhaps that’s to do with my spending Thanksgiving in South Carolina with my family. Perhaps you think everyone from South Carolina is straight off of Duck Dynasty. My uncle Ralph recently said at a football tailgate that he HATES the show. He quickly followed that up with the comment, “Because I live it!” His words, not mine. Josh went to Clemson (y’all would expect me to talk about the game last night – but I won’t) where he fell in love with waterfalls and lakes and hiking in the mountains. Josh is what I would describe as rugged? Scraggly – with his cut off khakis and flip flops? Fearless? Let’s just say Josh thrives on adventure. His love of Bear Grylls was on full display at our Fall Retreat where he talked about survival. I didn’t know that Bear was a man of faith until the retreat, but I could have assumed by the way he lives that he was a man after God’s own heart.

Before I show this clip, it’s not for the faint of heart or people with weak stomachs, so be forewarned….

Now, I realize those weren’t locusts. These bugs were juicier and oozier, if that’s even a word, and locusts would be crunchier. But what that entire description of John the Baptist tells me is that he was not afraid to march to the beat of his own drummer. He was not afraid to be different. He was not afraid to be prophetic – no matter the cost, no matter the friends he lost, no matter what.

The beginning of the Gospel of Mark begins with a quote from Isaiah about John the Baptist.

Mark 1:1-4
1 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.

Mark and Matthew both explicitly name John the Baptist as the one the prophet Isaiah talked about.

Fast forward through Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, through the temptation of Jesus, and the start of Jesus’ public ministry to John the Baptist’s imprisonment. In Matthew chapter 11, verses 2-6, “2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 4Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’”
Jesus wanted to continue John the Baptist’s legacy, making it complete, in him. The prophets had foretold this. Jesus’ wanted to build on John’s teaching, baptizing not just by water but by the spirit also. Jesus wanted to continue the revolution that John had started. Jesus also stepped to the beat of a different drum so he understood. He asked John’s disciples to take back what they could hear and see. And if Jesus came back today, what would he hear and see?

HOLIDAY SPIRIT: SHOOTINGS, STABBINGS, BRAWLS

2 Arrested In Walmart Parking Lot Stabbing… Las Vegas Shopper Shot On Way Home… New Jersey Man Pepper Sprayed… PHOTO: Madness At Macy’s… Staff Holding Back Shoppers… $300 Purses In Shambles… 2 Hurt After Shoplifting Call… Kmart Workers Strong-Armed… 110 Arrested At Walmart Protests…

Not to mention the guy that told off the lady on the airline flight and who later slapped him.

There’s got to be a different WAY.

We lit this candle on the Advent wreath symbolizing Christ the Way.

Do we know the way? In John 14:6 says, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s pretty clear. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. Model my behavior. Be my light to the world.

Pope Francis on Tuesday released “Evangeli Guadium” or The Joy of the Gospel. It’s the first official document written entirely by Pope Francis. He writes, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

He writes, “More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving.”

He writes, “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.”

He writes, “Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Prophetic and powerful words that have much to teach us.

And, who can forget this picture?

pope francis

Pope Francis knows something of what the prophet Micah spoke of in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Is that epitomized in our society? Is that epitomized within the flight incident? Jesus would have called her out – sure. But he was not passive aggressive. He would have done it in love.

Rivalry Saturday brings out the absolute worst in human nature, especially on facebook posts. Don’t even get me started on local politics because there was a lack of respect/decorum/common courtesy at the City Commission meeting I recently attended. I was appalled that adults acted that way.

We may pile up all sorts of opinions and points in an argument or debate, but in the end, with Jesus, love is the last word of all – God’s love for US, for all the world, and all of creation. During this season talking about the last word has a lot of connotations for me. For some, we’re coming off a holiday week and family brings out the best and the worst in each of us. We may wonder if we’ll ever get the last word on anything. For others, we think of some of our friends or family or co-workers or maybe even ourselves as ones who thrive on having that last word and can’t imagine life without getting it. I think of the television show Modern Family and the hilarity that ensued during the holiday episode between the “Realists” and the “Dreamers.”

Start at 17:00 – Stop at 21:34

But as the episode pointed out, you need a little bit of both. We need each other – both realists and dreamers. We have to find a middle way. We have ones who are ready to concede the argument and ones that will fight to the bitter end trying to get the last word – but we all need to be somewhere in the middle. We shouldn’t bowl over just because we’re “Christians” and let people walk and talk all over us, but we also shouldn’t be the ones that are raising our voices so that we’re the loudest so that our point can be heard over all the masses not caring about the casualties that may surround us. AND we can speak up for the voiceless. It often doesn’t feel like we get a say in anything and we’re merely reacting to what happens, instead of setting the course. I learned this advice in defensive driving class that I always carry with me, “You can only control your car. You can’t control what another driver does, how he or she acts, or whether or not they tailgate you and speed around you. You can only control how YOU react to the situation.”

So walk the talk this Advent season. Walk it. Do justly, love mercy, and WALK humbly with your God. And that is the WAY of Christ Jesus our Lord. Are we ready to jump in and live out the WAY of Christ in our last two days of classes? Are we ready to rock our final exams? All the tests, essays, or final group projects? Or jumping ahead to the break – family plans or packing up the residence hall room or bills or how we’re going to pay for next semester or the future or health or the glorious graduation celebration for our December graduates that thought this day would never come. Are we ready to walk in the WAY of truth, the WAY of grace, and the WAY of love?

We will answer with a big, resounding YES.