Mary’s Magnificat

Are you tired of the 24 hour news cycle or do you stayed glued to CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC?  Do you read your news online?  It’s can make you depressed because inevitably they cover more tragedy than celebration.  I’ve had journalists tell me what I already know, most people prefer the bad news.  It’s like schadenfreude.  Our fascination with others misfortune.  How many times have you been stuck in traffic on an interstate for an accident with the accident on the other side of the road?  We have rubber neck syndrome.  We want to be in the know.  If we’re praying people than we know how to pray for the world, our nation, our community from news sources.  Do we live in our own personal bubbles or are we in the world, but not of it – speaking prophetically, praying intercessory prayers, being informed so we can stand against tyranny on the side of the poor and oppressed.

People often say to veteran broadcaster, Paul Harvey, “Paul, why don’t journalists and broadcasters emphasize more good news instead of tragedy, destruction, discord and dissent?” Harvey’s own network once tried broadcasting a program devoted solely to good news. The program survived 13 weeks. We say we want good news, but we won’t buy it. In Sacramento, California, a tabloid called Good News Paper printed nothing else. It lasted 36 months before it went bankrupt. A similar Indiana tabloid fared even worse — the publishers had to GIVE IT AWAY. Evidently, the positive news people say they want is news they just won’t buy.  The tabloids full of scandals or In Touch or US sale off the shelves.

Listen to any broadcast, Paul Harvey suggests, or pick up any newspaper. You’ll learn that records are crashing, it is the worst wind or the worst fire or flood or earthquake or whatever — because NOISE makes news. For example,

* On August 31, 1997, Chicago Tribune sales soared 40 percent due to coverage of a crash that killed a princess.

* The very next issue of People made it the lead story and sold more than a million copies.

* Newsweek and Time broke sales records when they did the same in the following weeks.

* For an entire month after the crash, Britain’s biggest newspapers gave 35 percent of their total news coverage to the death of Princess Di. Not even the end of World War II got that much ink.

I actually stayed up with friends to watch Princess Diana’s funeral and when Mother Teresa died a few months later, she didn’t get near the publicity.  As Harvey suggests, noise makes news — and one gunshot makes more noise than a thousand prayers. That doesn’t mean it is more important — just that it sells more newspapers. The heads of all the major television networks understand this basic fact, and they make sure that news broadcasts are full of noise. 

That’s why the weather report does not stop with simply announcing that today’s winter temperature fell to 0 degrees. How boring is that?! No, the forecaster goes on to say that the “chill factor” is 40 degrees below! That’s news!

Here, then, is the question du jour: Could the same be true of our lack of enthusiasm for the Christmas story? Let’s face it: Good news can be boring. God is love. Mary is his favored one. Joseph is a righteous man. Jesus is such a sweet little baby. We’ve heard the story so often, and we’ve seen the pageant so many times. It just doesn’t get the adrenaline flowing any more. 

But hold on: There’s a surprise to be found in today’s Scripture, the “Magnificat” from the first chapter of Luke. This passage is an explosion of free verse by Mary — a young woman who could have thought she was getting some bad news when the angel arrived.  I asked the children’s Sunday School last week, what angels look like because anytime they appear, they immediately say, “Do not be afraid.” Gabriel’s announcement to Mary was a mixed bag of good news and bad news.  When she heard Elizabeth’s proclamation, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  When she realized how truly awesome Gabriel’s message was, she began to make some soulful noise, and that’s where the Magnificat comes in.  She does her part to make sure it sells — she does it by itemizing the noisy good news about her Good News God.

Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour 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,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 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.’
Is this really “noisy” good news? Yes, it is. We should shout and sing because Mary makes a racket for all of us. There is nothing meek and mild about the song that Mary sings. Check out these headlines:

GOD TAPS NAZARETH NOBODY. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” rejoices  Mary, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (1:46-48). It is truly surprising and newsworthy that God chose a poor Galilean girl to become the mother of Jesus the Christ and the most significant woman in all of Holy Scripture.

“Mother of God,” “Heavenly nurse,” “Help of the helpless,” and “Dispensatrix of all grace” are just some of her names. She became an unbreakable link between Jewish and Christian history.  Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan sees her as the inspiration for the great abbesses of medieval times — the most powerful women in an age of powerful men — and today as the driving force behind people engaged in struggles for social justice around the world.

Not bad for a nobody from Nazareth. Her selection by God should give hope to any of us who are feeling trapped in our everyday existence.  Feeling like we’re not making much of a difference to anybody.  The great truth of Mary’s story is that God uses the small to lead the big, the weak to teach the strong, and the ordinary to carry out the extraordinary. All we need to do is to remember that it is availability and not ability that is key, and to say, along with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38).

But there’s more: LORD BUMPS WALL STREET, LIFTS LITTLE GUY. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,” says the Magnificat, “and lifted up the lowly” (1:52). From tech giants to the world’s biggest oil companies, those who run the economy agree on one thing — bigger is better. But what’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with it is that God is working to bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. God is concerned more about the common good than about corporate greed. “Can anybody seriously suggest that bigger, more powerful, and more profitable corporations will help to protect the interests of workers, consumers, the environment, local communities, and the forgotten poor?” asks Jim Wallis in Sojourners magazine. “Is it right that the casino economy of Wall Street profits when the real economy of workers and their families suffers? Is it fair that the people who do the firing get a raise, while the people fired can only fear for the future of their families?” Christians who follow the Good News God of the “Magnificat” are called to look for the common good for all people.

And here’s some more noisy news: 2000-YEAR-OLD PROMISE KEPT. “He has helped his servant Israel,” Mary notes, “in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (1:54-55).

God kept his promises to Israel, from the time of Abraham to the time of Mary, and he keeps his promises today. The greatest sign of his promise-keeping was the birth of his son Jesus Christ: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,” said God through the prophet Isaiah, “and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The 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” (11:1-2). He’ll grow up to judge the poor with righteousness and kill the wicked with the breath of his lips. His kingdom will be a peaceful one, marked by righteousness and faithfulness and the knowledge of the Lord.

This is news — news of surprising selections, unexpected elevations and the preservation of ancient promises. It’s noisy news, awesome news, but better yet … it’s Good News. It’s the Good news that God has come to earth in Jesus Christ, to call us to himself and to point us toward his just and everlasting kingdom.

The sermons I’ve been doing for Advent have had a definite apocalyptic or eschatological lean, “Keep Awake,” “Repent for the One is coming”, and this one will is no different.  “Joy WILL come in the morning.”  Many places Mary is depicted as meek and mild-mannered, Saint-like with a golden halo around her head, pondering things in her heart.  To answer Margaret’s song that she sang beautifully, I think Mary DID know.  She knew just like her foremothers knew, Esther, for such a time as this, Ruth, your people will be my people, your God, my God, and now Mary, the peasant girl who utters this powerful prophecy, the first of Luke’s New Testament.  It is powerful.  A total reversal of the world order.  But do we live that?

I was “over hearing” a conversation on facebook between some FSU Wesley students last week.  One was preaching a sermon on Advent that night and asked, “Talk with me about Advent. Is this season purely about remembering the birth of Christ, or is there more to it?  (I have my thoughts, I want to hear yours)”  I had so much fun reading their comments.  Here’s some of them.  “mary’s song and a lot of the old testament passages that prophesy about the coming of Jesus talk about how he will essentially turn society upside down. the lion will lie with the lamb, he’s brought down the powerful from their throne and lifted up the lowly, etc. These texts demonstrate that Jesus is not just coming to save souls but to radically transform how our society functions, for the better of the poor and the oppressed. for me, advent is a time to remember that God came to save everything (individuals, political systems, economies, etc) and to challenge ourselves to put that belief into action.”
“I think Advent represents a thrill of hope for all weary people. The birth of Jesus didn’t necessarily omit weariness from the world, but it gave us the tools to build a table at which we can all share a meal and rest.”

“dude. Honestly if us millennial, Christians could just build enough tables we would convert the world.”

“i’ve been thinking about not ignoring the weary people around me, and how advent makes me want to be human with other humans (“we’re all passengers on the way to the grave” sort of feeling).  Advent makes me want to take my headphones out and sit next to someone at a bus stop (advise, I don’t even ride a bus) and have a small conversation that recognizes our sameness, because we’re all waiting for things to be fully healed, and we’re all headed the same direction.”

“To me, it’s a deeper reflection on the hope that only Christ can give us; that this groaning here on Earth will eventually lead to peace and rest for anyone that puts their hope and trust in Him. And yes, to celebrate and remind us of the magical and yet simple way that he entered our world as a little baby.”

“I just thought of a late night sermon that Jimmy gave when he turned off all the lights in the worship center and preached with a headlamp on. Advent is sitting in the darkness, without being too quick to jump to the light. Like we’ve got a spoiler alert that the light will come, but sometimes we need to acknowledge the realness of the dark.”

Spoiler alert.  The light breaks in through the darkness and great joy comes in the morning.  Hear me now.  The light breaks through in the darkness and JOY comes in the morning.

What are some of our dark places? What are some dark corners of our hearts and of our worlds?

I’ve asked Mike to play the song, “A Baby Will Come.”  It was written by Bill Wolf after he read Mary’s Song in Luke. “As I was researching the social climate of that time and place, I realized just how dire the lives of the Israelites would’ve been. Between the brutal conquests of the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus and the obscene taxation of Herod, King of Judea…they found themselves enslaved once again, but this time it was in their very own backyard.  The Promised Land no longer felt like the Promised Land.  And into that climate, a young adolescent Jewish girl was visited by an angel of God and told that she would give birth to a baby boy and His name would be “Salvation”; his very name would “Liberation” for her and her people.  In a moment of joy and restraint, Mary sat down and wrote her Magnificat; a poem that is on one hand personal and introspective, but on the other hand, charged with social and political revolutionary language.”

We need to keep awake, be prepared, and trust that joy comes in the morning.  That GOOD will triumph over evil even when all seems lost.

The kings of this world
Have torn it apart
But we can take heart
A baby will come

To the hungry and meek
To those who grieve
To the broken, in need
A baby will come

We have known pain
We’ve felt death’s sting
God, help us believe
This baby will come

The angel appeared
Said do not fear
For peace is here
A baby has come

The advent of life
Let hope arise
We’ve our King and our Christ
The Baby has come

We’ve waited so long
God, for Your mighty arm
May our doubts ever calm
For the Baby has come

The proud will be low
The humble will know
They’re valued and loved
For the Baby has come

Cause the kings of this world
Won’t have the last word
That, God, is Yours
For the Baby has come

The Way of Jesus

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 comes to mind he went to Clemson, was a counselor at Asbury Hills, and he taught multiple spiritual life retreats and his final seminary project were on survival.  He tricked me when I was 7 ½ months pregnant with Enoch.  I was the campus minister at Winthrop Wesley and we had organized a camping trip.  I was used to staying at King’s Mountain State Park where you can park right at the campsite and bring board games, all sorts of snacks, and loads of gear.  He talked me into going across the street to Crowder’s Mountain State Park.   The campsite was a 1.8 mile hike!!!  Josh definitely wants to be a man living on the land and he’s convinced that we all should take plant classes so if we have to go to my grandparent’s farm, we can eat.  If the Zombie apocalypse comes no one is going to come anywhere close to Greeleyville or Williamsburg County so we’ll be safe there.  Now you might be imagining someone who is “rugged.”  No, not necessarily.   Scraggly – with his cut off khakis and flip flops.  Definitely tenacious and stubborn.  He can MacGyver anything.  Fearless?  Josh reminds me of John the Baptist not merely on his live on the land exterior, but he has the boldness and the bullheadedness of purpose that I’m sure that John the Baptist had.

John 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 if people pointed at him, no matter what they whispered at him, no matter if people called him an odd duck or weird or strange.

As they lit the Advent wreath earlier, we heard from a different Gospel writer, Mark, as he begins with a quote from Isaiah about John the Baptist.

Mark 1:1-4

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”  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.  Jesus wanted to continue the revolution that John had started.  Jesus also stepped to the beat of a different drum so he understood.  In fact, he created the drum.  Jesus asked John’s disciples to take back what they could hear and see.   Remember, Keep Awake, from last week’s text, we don’t know when we will cross to the other side of Jordan and no one knows the hour or the day, but we should be prepared all the time.  We should live like Christ calls us to ALL the time.  We should do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God 24:7:365.  It’s not out of guilt, it’s not about us earning our salvation, it’s out of joy and hope and love of God and neighbor.  It’s practicing what you preach no matter the cost or how hard it is.  Again, Jesus asked John’s disciples to take what they could hear and see.  If Jesus came back today, what would he hear and see?

Would he see us being hateful to one another by our sharp, critical, pessimistic, glass half empty, doomsday brand of legalistic Christianity?

Would he see our country so divided that each of us demonize the “other” calling them ignorant or unchristian or conservative or liberal or independent?

Would he see us loving our neighbor that may be different from us or just the ones we’re comfortable with, the ones we like, the ones who dress appropriately for church or who fit in and know the words to all the creeds?

There’s got to be a different WAY.  The world has got see a different way.  The way of love. Light. Hope.  Because if we’re not offering it than who is?  If we can’t offer a prayerful, calm, hope-filled word than what are we doing here?  Are we playing church or being church?

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 writes in his “Evangeli Guadium” or The Joy of the Gospel, the first official document written entirely by Pope Francis, “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.” 

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

Amen.  Prophetic words that have much to teach us.

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?”

Jesus calls us out and helps us to see.  He’s not passive aggressive.  He does it in love.  He gets to the heart of us.  He cuts through the rationalizations and why’s and excuses and he looks at us and we begin to squirm because in our heart of hearts we know we’re wrong.  We know we shouldn’t put our stock in tradition, ritual, rules, or anarchy, laissez faire attitudes, ambivalence to everything.

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 especially, let’s react first in love, not in judgment.  I know it’s hard for some of us.  It often seems like 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.”

Speaking of tailgating, as we move through the Christmas shopping season, let’s not let our overflowing shopping carts prevent us from seeing where Jesus is steering us. He wants us to focus on him, not on luxurious lifestyles. As country singer George Strait noted,

You don’t bring nothing with you here
And you can’t take nothing back
I ain’t never seen a hearse, with a luggage rack.

If we buy things in order to have that fuzzy, warm feeling – it’s going to leave us empty, unfulfilled, and with maxed out credit cards.  This may be a tough path to walk, but fortunately Jesus strengthens us. He baptizes us “with the Holy Spirit” (v. 8), filling us with his presence and power. The Spirit of Christ offers us love, joy and peace, as well as other spiritual gifts: “patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These gifts are the marks of a Christian life, and are the clearest signs that a person is moving along the path of Jesus.

There is a story about a group of tourists visiting the Vatican. Their tour guide had told them about the famed Sistine Chapel: the place where the College of Cardinals meets to choose a new pope, the room whose ornate painted ceiling is Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

One aspect of the Sistine Chapel comes as a surprise to most first-time visitors: its size. It’s a rather small room. One young man was so eager to see Michelangelo’s painted ceiling, he dashed in one end of the Sistine Chapel and out the other. He mistook the Chapel for some kind of antechamber. The tour guide had to chase after him, saying: “Come back, you missed it — and this time, remember to look up!”

It’s the sort of mistake that’s so easy to make during Advent. It’s so easy to confuse Advent with a waiting room: to dash through these four short weeks, arms laden with packages, eyes cast downward, busy, busy, busy.  Just like Amy Grant’s Christmas song, “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.”  Advent is a destination in its own right.  To make him room.  To prepare the way.  To keep awake.  If we fast forward to Christmas, we’re missing out on the soul work God wants us to do this Advent season.  Doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

So walk the talk this Advent season.  Dig into scripture or an Advent Devotional book.  There are some on the Missions table in the Fellowship Hall.  Do a specific prayer focus or take part in an Advent picture challenge.  Do whatever you need to do for YOU to connect with God during this season.  Did you hear what I said?   Do whatever you need to do for YOU to connect with God during this season because a baby is coming and He can be your Lord of Lords, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, and Everlasting God.  He proclaims release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  He will change your life if you let him.

  • Preached on Sunday, December 4th.

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.

The First Sunday in Advent

isaiah61

Isaiah 60:2-3

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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.

 Hebrews 11:1-3

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

We’re sticking with our tradition of starting Advent early, but the way the calendar falls this year, we’re just starting a week early.  So this is the first Sunday of Advent or Hope, the second Sunday of Advent or Christ the Way or Love will be next Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent or Peace will be on December 8th, and the fourth Sunday of Advent or Joy will be celebrated on December 15th.  We will celebrate Christmas Eve on Reading Day which is December 4th.  Is that confusing for anyone else?  We’re committed to celebrating the full season of Advent as we prepare our hearts for the coming of our Savior.

When I noticed the Christian radio stations starting to play Christmas music, I was indignant because I thought it was still mid-October.  I stopped and thought a minute before realizing it was the week before Thanksgiving.  So for some of you sticklers out there that don’t listen to any Christmas music pre-Thanksgiving, you would agree with my indignation.  But considering that the Charlotte and Columbia Christian radio stations would play Christmas music starting on Halloween, I’ll take the week before Thanksgiving any day.  Thank goodness that our Halloween decorations were Harvest-themed because we still haven’t taken them down.  Who knows when we’ll decorate for Advent/Christmas?  And the kids have already started asking.  We’re decorating here at Wesley during our leadership meeting next Sunday.  Better late than never.  We’re only going to be halfway through Advent at that point.

It’s hard to get into the spirit of Advent because we’re skipping over holidays and in the life of students this is definitely crunch time.   If I start running down my list of thing to do, buy, and parties to attend I’ll want to stay in bed and pull the covers up over my head and let this Advent/Christmas pass on by.  Speaking of getting prepared – tell me you haven’t heard of Brown Tuesday.  It ISN’T a thing.

(start at 1:24 and stop at 2:31)

Brown Thursday?  Where you get a jump on shopping for Christmas presents?  Or HDTV’s for yourself?  Note:  Four years ago, Mike and I decided to get up early on Black Friday for the specific purpose of buying a TV.  So I’m not hating or judging or pointing fingers.  Well, maybe I am, but I’m guilty too!

But what if we did things a little differently this year?  Give a goat for just $120 to Heifer International, dig a well for just $35 through Church World Service, or give to UMCOR for the typhoon in the Philippines or the communities recently hit by tornadoes in the Midwest, knowing that the money you give is going 100% to the victims of these natural disasters because United Methodist Churches all over the world give money to pay UMCOR’s administrative costs.  What if we do Advent differently?

Advent is one of my favorite times in the church calendar.  But this year, as I’ve spent all morning describing, I’m completely not ready for it.  It’s much more than just getting ready for Christmas and knowing how many shopping days you have left.  We have to pace ourselves.  Advent is the season that past and future collide in the present.  A time of already (as in Christ did come and is here) and not yet (Christ will come again).  The word Advent comes from the Latin verb advenire, which means “to come toward, to draw near, to approach.”  This is the time when we remember God’s drawing near to us in Jesus Christ in the past, in the present, and in the age to come.  Just like the Alpha and the Omega – the kingdom of God is the already and not yet – here amongst us, but also something that we long to come to completion.

I guess it’s that sense of expectation and hope that draws me in.  It’s a time of preparation, different from Lent, when there’s a sense of anticipated joy and hope not just from the ashes but at the end of a long journey.  Maybe those are similar in your minds but to me there’s a difference.  Take the Gators.  I know, I know.  In many ways it feels like you’re living a life of Lent.  From dust you came and to dust you will return and to witness the game yesterday was demoralizing.  But then there’s that sense of hope that comes with being a true fan.  The hope that we’ll have a better season next year.  Or maybe we’ll end the season on a high note?  Advent teaches us to expect the unexpected and nothing would be more unexpected than if the Gators beat the Noles next Saturday.  A brief commercial for the Gator Seminole Showdown….one way that we can beat the Seminoles on Saturday is if we win the pledge per point contest so go to www.gatorwesley.com/showdown.

No one expected the savior of the whole world to be born as a baby.  No one could foresee the Great God of the Universe coming in the form of the most vulnerable thing on earth – a baby.

Although we may be more comfortable with a “baby Jesus” because he’s cute and we can find some semblance of controlling him.  We may be more comfortable with Christmas Jesus versus Easter Jesus.  But if you’ve ever had children you know from the time that they enter the world they’re on their own schedule and you can expect the unexpected.

And no one knows “expectant waiting” like a pregnant woman.  I will never forget the first Sunday of Advent in 2008.  My mom, dad, grandmother, Josh, Caleb, and my sister-in-law Karen, and of course Enoch and Mike, had all come to our town house to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Because I was about to pop with Evy.  My due date was a month away, but Enoch had come a month early, so Thanksgiving happened at our house that year.  It was baby watch.  Have you ever heard the phrase, “a watched cake never bakes” or “a watched pot never boils.”  My grandmother, Ganny (I couldn’t say my r’s when I was little, so because I was the first grandchild they became Ganny and Gandaddy) kept asking me throughout the weekend if I was feeling anything.  If I was feeling anything like contractions.  I repeatedly told her I was not and could she leave me alone!

I was preaching that Sunday at St. John’s in Fort Mill, the next town over, where Mike did the music for the non-traditional service.  That was the first Sunday of Advent.  I have never forgotten how it felt to do the first Sunday of Advent as a pregnant person – the anticipation, the waiting , the expectancy, the perceived urgency…I don’t remember what exactly I said that day.  Who knows.  I blame it on pregnancy brain.  But as soon as I was done preaching and Mike and the band started playing the closing song, I began to have contractions.  I didn’t tell Mike or my Mom right away.  I needed some confirmation first.  As we got into the car a song I had never heard before was playing.

The song was “Jesus Born on This Day” by Avalon that was originally done by Mariah Carey.  It had just come out in November 2008.  That was just the confirmation I needed.  So we dropped Mom and a sleeping Enoch off back at our house with instructions to let the rest of the family know because they had been worshipping at Josh’s church.  And we drove back in the other direction for Charlotte calling the doctor on the way.  I’ll spare you the details, but as soon as the Carolina Panthers game was over, Mike and the doctor turned around and within two pushes Evangeline Grace Jeter made her way into the world at 4:30 in the afternoon.  Evangeline means “Good News or the bearer of Good News” and Grace is self-explanatory, but what a name to start the Advent season right, and we planned the name, before realizing how appropriate it would be.

Good news.  Good news of great joy.  Grace.  God with us.

This is Advent.  Not just a time of talking about dreams or what if’s or one day’s, but getting ready right now.  Putting yourself out there, right now.  Going for it, right now.  It’s easy in the consumerism and the narcissism and the pessimism to let the weight of the world fall heavy on our shoulders.  It’s hard in student land to get in the spirit of Advent as you feel the full weight of the semester with assignments, tests, papers, group projects, etc., with most of you exhausted, sick and ready to have a break and I’m not just talking about Thanksgiving when you’ll be doing school work in the midst, I’m talking about a nice, long Winter’s break.  It’s hard in the lives of teachers and parents trying to get through these last few weeks before Santa, Santa, Santa.  It’s hard for those who have lost loved ones, who have lost jobs, who have no idea where money is going to come for electricity much less gifts.  It is hard.

But Advent is so much more than just our personal worlds.  It’s the in-breaking of the kingdom of God as God Almighty, the Great God of the Universe, became One of us.  It’s the waiting not only for this child (the already) but for the Triumphant King (the not yet).  It’s the waiting for justice and righteousness and all of the beautiful words in Isaiah 9:6-7 “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.”

So in this season of Advent I’m doing my best to focus on the thanksgivings.  Which is ironic.  I’m doing my best to open my eyes and my heart to the unexpected all around me.  I’m trying to not let the to do lists or the gifts to still be gotten or the Christmas cards that probably won’t happen or the people that cut you off in traffic or the things that constantly go wrong in the midst throw me off track in centering my heart and being present to the journey towards the stable.

I am asking God to wipe away my cynicism and my weariness and to fill my heart with the joy and wonder and Christmas spirit that’s more than a cheesy Christmas song or tv movie, but that is life giving and life changing.  Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

As we enter into a season that often looks a lot more like Brown Thursday or Black Friday with the rush, bustle, mayhem, and angst than the arrival of our Savior into the world, may we remember, may we know, may we connect, may we take time to explore this Advent season anew and afresh.

May God open our eyes to some of our disconnect.  May we realize when we’re drawing from the Source or when we’re just running on fumes.  May we see and know and feel God’s rhythm in our bones as we go about our day to day resting in God’s love, strength, patience and wisdom and not our own will, arrogance, or seeming energy.

I am grateful for a God who loves me even when I’m spinning my wheels.  I am grateful for the Spirit who leads and guides and gives us the nudges and awakening when we need it.  I am grateful for the inspiration of Christ to show us how we are to live, bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

As we go forward with a different kind of Advent, may we hear the words anew and afresh from Matthew 5:16, “Jesus said, ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

I’ll leave you with Amy Grant’s “I Need a Silent Night.”  Reflect on how you want to start this Advent season.  Set some goals so as to not let the season pass you by.  May we do Advent a little bit differently this year.

– I Need a Silent Night by Amy Grant

Epiphany – Connecting Back to the Source

ImageI had an epiphany last night.  And yes, I know that we are on the cusp of Advent not Epiphany.  But, in the midst of talking to my mom on the phone last night about some recent feedback from an evaluation and my overall tiredness lately, I began to realize some of the habits or rhythms that I’ve been unconsciously leaving out.

I’ve generally been really good about reading the Upper Room daily devotional that gets sent to my email box in the morning.  I’ve also generally been okay at reading other religious/devotional/pastoral/thought-provoking materials or at the very least reading along with several small groups at Wesley so that I’m getting fed spiritually.  It took me until last night to realize, oh yeah, you haven’t even signed up for the Upper Room on your new email address.  I’ve been at this new job for close to five months and I’m just now realizing that I completely blanked on signing up for my daily devotional to be sent to my new inbox.

That’s pretty telling.

And I honestly didn’t even realize it.  It didn’t cross my mind until last night.

As we start new jobs, new projects, new paths and as we enter into a season that often looks a lot more like Black Friday with the rush, bustle, mayhem, and angst than the arrival of our Savior into the world, may we remember, may we know, may we connect, may we take time to explore this Advent season anew and afresh.

May God open our eyes to some of our disconnect.  May we realize when we’re drawing from the Source or when we’re just running on fumes.  May we see and know and feel God’s rhythm in our bones as we go about our day to day resting in God’s love, strength, patience and wisdom and not our own will, arrogance, or seeming energy.

I am grateful for a God who loves me even when I’m spinning my wheels.  I am grateful for the Spirit who leads and guides and gives us the nudges and awakening when we need it.  I am grateful for the inspiration of Christ to show us how we are to live, bringing God’s kingdom to earth.  

Just a couple things that have been speaking to me this morning:

This morning’s Upper Room Devotional: http://devotional.upperroom.org/devotionals/2012-11-30 – Very appropriately asking “Am I walking in the Lord’s light, and am I projecting that light into the world?”

Three songs that have stood out this morning – Brandon Heath’s “You Are My King,” Group 1 Crew’s “His Kind of Love,” and TobyMac’s “Get Back Up.”

Make You Feel My Love

I was in college in the late 90’s so I’m very familiar with the “Jesus as your boyfriend” kind of praise music. I get the critiques and the easy jokes… But in listening to my Pandora a second ago, Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love” came on and it just reminded me so much of this Advent/Christmas season. We don’t love a distant God with arms crossed, tapping foot, we love Emmanuel – God with us. The God who will walk across glass for us. The God who will draw us close even when we don’t realize it and who will continue to love us despite all things. That is beautiful.

As we draw towards this Holy time when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us may we be ever reminded of God’s passionate love for us and desire to be with us. With Christmas songs and tv specials and holiday cards swirling all around us, let us not lose sight of the Savior in the midst offering love and new life. I know that I needed to hear this today.