Unlock your Heart with Jesus

John 20:1-18

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.  11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

A week ago, we celebrated Palm Sunday where Jesus rode on a colt or donkey to shouts of “Hosanna” and the waving of palm branches as he celebrated the Passover in Jerusalem.  Then he flipped over tables in the temple and called the religious leaders to task.  We know that he gathered with his disciples on Passover to wash their feet and to gather with them to break bread and drink wine, as he said these strange words about the bread representing his body that is broken open and the wine being his blood covering all of our sins.  We believe the familiar story of him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane asking God to take this cup from me.  Judas betraying him, Peter denying him, his disciples scattered and scared.  We believe that on Good Friday Jesus suffered death on a cross beside two thieves.  The sky turned black, the earth shook, and the curtain in the temple ripped.  He died and was placed in a tomb where he was for 3 days.

That’s where our passage starts today.  You may be thinking, Narcie why this review of Holy Week?  The Easter story is familiar to many of us.  It’s a story in all 4 of the Gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  They all give different details, depending on their perspective, but that to me, is what makes it more true.  If they all said the same thing, I, being a natural doubter, would be even more skeptical.  I think that’s what makes the Bible great – all of these different people, sharing their stories, creating this arch of God’s redemption of the world.  Several years ago in The New York Times Sunday Review, the Swedish writer Henning Mankell wrote that “a truer nomination for our species than Homo sapiens might be Homo narrans, the storytelling person.” Mankell’s argument was not that the biologists are wrong or that we are not thinking creatures but rather that we are also — and maybe even primarily — storytelling creatures.  We make sense of the world and our place in it through story. Story is how we create meaning, how we interpret reality, and how we come to know who we are and why we are.  Stories have a way of weaving into our psyche as nothing else does.

Our passage is from the book of John.  John is the one who has all of the “I Am’s.”  I am the bread of life.  I am the good shepherd.  I am the true vine.  It has zero parables and no Passover meal or Lord’s Supper.  It’s the only Gospel that has the foot washing instead.  John was the only one of the disciples who was with Mary and the other women the day that Jesus died on the cross.  He was the one to whom Jesus, as he was hanging on the cross, entrusted his mother Mary.  He has a peculiar way of telling a story, a more personal way.  Like with the foot washing.  He had Jesus bowing before each disciple and washing their feet and saying, “I have set for you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”  He’s the only one of the Gospels that has Mary interacting with whom she supposed was the gardener, but the reader knows he’s actually Jesus.  The Gospels all explain the transformation of the Resurrected Jesus in different ways, so we get the idea that he is like himself and yet unlike himself.  When he calls out her name, “Mary!”  The text says, “She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).”  She recognized him as she heard his voice and he called out her name.  John’s is the only Gospel which weaves in this personal touch.  I think it’s important to recognize, there was never a pivotal moment in Jesus’ earthly ministry that John wasn’t an eye witness.  The Transfiguration.  The Garden of Gethsemane.  The Crucifixion.  And also in this Gospel account, the Resurrection.  He was called the one whom Jesus loved and he wrote the most personal Gospel account.  I don’t think that’s a coincidence.  He was writing not only about his Rabbi and Savior but his friend, and that makes for a very good story.

What were your favorite books growing up?  My favorites were Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Catch-22 and biographies of Dolly Madison, Queen Elizabeth, Abigail Adams and Julia Ward Howe, and my Mom’s old Betty Cavannah books.  Don’t worry I liked more modern stories too – like Nancy Drew, the Babysitters Club, and Sweet Valley High.  Have any of you read The Secret Garden?  It’s a story of Mary Lennox, who is a sickly and unloved 10-year-old girl, born in India to wealthy British parents who never wanted her. She is cared for by servants, who allow her to become a spoiled.  After a cholera epidemic kills her parents and the servants, Mary is sent England to live with Archibald Craven; an uncle whom she has never met, at his isolated house, Misselthwaite Manor.  At first, Mary is as rude and sour as ever. She dislikes her new home, the people living in it, and most of all, the bleak moor on which it sits. However, a good-natured maid named Martha Sowerby tells Mary about the late Mrs. Craven, who would spend hours in a private walled garden growing roses. Mrs. Craven died after an accident in the garden, and the devastated Mr. Craven locked the garden and buried the key. Mary becomes interested in finding the secret garden herself, and her ill manners begin to soften as a result. Soon she comes to enjoy the company of Martha, the gardener Ben Weatherstaff, and a friendly bird that she calls Robin.

“Are things stirring down below in the dark in that garden where he lives?” Mary inquired.

“What garden?” grunted Weatherstaff, becoming surly again.

“The one where the old rose-trees are.” She could not help asking, because she wanted so much to know. “Are all the flowers dead, or do some of them come again in the summer? Are there ever any roses?”

“Ask him,” said Ben Weatherstaff, hunching his shoulders toward the robin. “He’s the only one as knows. No one else has seen inside it for ten year’.”

Mary was shocked by how long the garden, this now secret garden, had gone without someone tending it.  She grew fond of the robin who had been the garden’s sole visitor and would watch it closely.  One day, as the robin hopped about under them she saw him hop over a small pile of freshly turned up earth. He stopped on it to look for a worm. The earth had been turned up because a dog had been trying to dig up a mole and he had scratched quite a deep hole.

Mary looked and saw something almost buried in the newly-turned soil. It was like a ring of rusty iron or brass, and when the robin flew up into a tree nearby she put out her hand and picked the ring up. It was more than a ring, however; it was an old key which looked as if it had been buried a long time.

Mistress Mary stood up and looked at it with an almost frightened face as it hung from her finger.

“Perhaps it has been buried for ten years,” she said in a whisper. “Perhaps it is the key to the garden!”

What happens when she unlocks the door to the Secret Garden?  Not only does the garden experience resurrection, but she does.  A sad, unloved, lonely little girl was loved for who she was, with all of her baggage, in a very personal way. As she spends time in the garden, she begins to be an agent of resurrection.  She got some of God’s Resurrection dust on her, the pollen of new life, sprinkling down from heaven to make all things new.

See Jesus wants to set us free.  Jesus hands us the keys to unlock the gardens of our hearts.  As it says in Isaiah 43:1-3, “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;  I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  Jesus calls each of us by name, just like Mary, and hands us the key to our salvation.  All we have to do is turn the lock.

What’s holding you back from taking the key that Jesus is handing you?  Jesus broke free from the shackles of sin and conquered death so that we may have eternal life if we put our hope and trust in him.  What do you need to break free from?  Perfection?  Doubt?  Fear? Loneliness?  What does the Enemy whisper to you when you’re feeling weak or vulnerable?  What are you clinging to?  Pride? Sloth? Envy? Lust? Wrath? Gluttony?  Greed? What?  Think of it as Spring cleaning.  We treat our sins like old familiar sweatshirts, old comfy shoes.  That may fit more snuggly now but they’re familiar.  Throw them out!  They have no hold over you now.  Lay down the pride, perfection, lust, lies at the foot of the cross and LEAVE IT THERE.  When you feel the tug to put them on again, ask Jesus to come and meet you in that moment and ask him to give you the strength not to fall back into the old ways and repent.

As Lutheran Priest, Nadia Bolz-Weber, writes, “That’s the thing about tombs. Sometimes we don’t even know we are in them, until the light breaks from on high. But I know we all have them.

I wonder what it is for you. Is there something buried? Thought to be dead? Something that you have left for dead? What in your life might have been in such darkness that any kind of dawn would feel sudden and unexpected causing you to shield your eyes?

Sometimes tombs are about how we treat things in our life as though they represent the end. This relationship is over. This life of faith has ended. That time of happiness will never return. There’s a big stone covering that thing I used to feel or I used to love or I used to be and anyway, it’s started to smell of rot. That part of me is totally dead, period. End of sentence. But as great African American preachers often say — “where we put a period … God puts a comma.”

Having a God of resurrection means that the story is seldom over when we think it is.”

That’s the thing about serving a God of Resurrection – God is in the business of making all things new.  Frances Hodgson Burnett, writes in The Secret Garden, “At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”  To believe a new thing can be done, you have to trust and have faith in the One who is bringing the change.  Did you hear what I said?  To believe a new thing can be done, you have to trust and have faith in the One who is bringing the change.

Let’s try a little experiment. Close your eyes and empty your mind of every other thought. Okay, now, picture God.

You can open your eyes now. What was the first image that came to mind?

I’ll bet, for most of us, it was an old man with a white beard.

Now let me ask you this. In your mental image, was God smiling?

My guess is, some of you pictured God without a smile. “Stern” might be a good word to describe the visage of the Almighty.

Now, one further question: in your mind’s eye, was God holding anything? If you answered, “a thunderbolt,” congratulations — you’ve just selected most people’s all-time favorite accessory to the divine wardrobe.

Why is it so many of us picture the Lord of heaven and earth as a grumpy old man packing a loaded thunderbolt? We imagine God that way, even though we know better. Sure, God can get angry. There’s ample evidence of that in the Bible. Yet the Bible also teaches that “God is love” — and that God “so loved the world” that we have received as a gift “God’s only son,” that we might “not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Why is it, then, that we so quickly forget these passages, ie. most of what Jesus says, and elevate to such high prominence those dealing with God’s wrath and destruction?  If we only see God as old man punishing us and keeping a record of wrongs, that’s not a full picture of God at all.  I serve Emmanuel, God with us, One who walks with us through life journeys showing us the way, the truth, and the life.  I serve a Savior that wants our resting states or defaults to be love and grace, not hatred and judgment.  As it says in Matthew 19:26, “”With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  The God I serve sent God’s only son, Jesus, to break the chains of sin and death, to unlock the doors of our hearts so we are free to dream the big dreams God has in store for us.  The God that I serve, says in Romans 8:38-39, “38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.”  Jesus seeks to unlock and banish our doubts, fears, hesitations, self-harm, woundings, and says to each of us, you are free indeed.  If you’re still doubting God’s love for you or are you are wondering how to find God, Jeremiah 29:11-13 says, “11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.”  God wants to give us hope and a future.  God wants us to unlock the door to freedom from sin and death, freedom from all the things that shackle us and weigh us down, freedom to live the life we were meant to have in Jesus!

Knowing Jesus is like that.  It sneaks up on you.  You may be curious about this Jesus guy.  You may be intrigued.  But he’s the real deal and once you know that, you can’t help but spread that Good News!  You’re part of this massive letter to all of humanity that shouts from the rooftops God loves you, you were fearfully and wonderfully made, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, came to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set us free from the things that bind us and want to choke the life right out of us.  He defeated death, conquered the grave, and gave us eternal life.  Spirit of Truth guide and lead us in discovering what holds us back and rebuking that power over us. As Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us . . . approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

God goes to some outrageous lengths to share love, shouldn’t we do the same for people?  Remember the eggs in the children’s sermon.  That was and is the biggest, “Surprise!!” the world has ever seen.  Wouldn’t it be a different world if we actually lived like Easter people?  To not only talk the talk, but actually walk the walk in the ways that our Rabbi Jesus taught us.  To give a hurting world the resurrection hope that is real and tangible and sustaining, not withered like two-week old Easter lilies.  Like we mean it!  Like we believe it!

Some of my favorite words to read at a Celebration of Life are these words of grace.  “Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,

and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,

and I hold the keys of hell and death.

Because I live, you shall live also.”

Friends, if we turn the key to the gardens of our hearts, if we trust Emmanuel, God with us, with our salvation, then we too, have the hope of resurrection and we get to actively participate in the greatest story ever told!

2024958182

It’s time to turn the key to our hearts and SHARE the key (pun intended!) with the world, so we can together dream the big dreams that God has in store for each of us!

Lift Up Your Eyes to See

My mom reads the Upper Room Daily Devotional every morning.  I grew up seeing her waking up 30-45 minutes early to do her quiet time with God.  She not only reads the theme verse and the suggested verses in the Upper Room, she reads the whole chapter.  I took a page out of her book this morning because the theme verses intrigued me so much.

Isaiah 40 (NRSV)

God’s People Are Comforted

40 Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
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.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
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.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

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.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand forever.
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.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
    and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
    and weighed the mountains in scales
    and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has directed the spirit of the Lord,
    or as his counselor has instructed him?
14 Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,
    and who taught him the path of justice?
Who taught him knowledge,
    and showed him the way of understanding?
15 Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
    and are accounted as dust on the scales;
    see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,
    nor are its animals enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him;
    they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God,
    or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol? —A workman casts it,
    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold,
    and casts for it silver chains.
20 As a gift one chooses mulberry wood
    —wood that will not rot—
then seeks out a skilled artisan
    to set up an image that will not topple.

21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
    calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
    mighty in power,
    not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

Isn’t this an awesome passage of scripture?  I referenced verse 26 yesterday in my devotion for Somerby before giving them Epiphany Star Gifts.  It reminds me of the old Silers Bald song, “Starry Host.”

At times I  may doubt you,
Or even start to wonder if You will provide,
But who am I to question Your grandeur
The answer's right before my eyes

He who brings out the starry host,
One by one, and calls them each by name
Because of His great power
And mighty strength
Not one of them is missing

Lift up your eyes to see.  We see new life springing up everywhere and I’m not just talking about our warm temperatures.  In terms of mission, we adopted 3 Starfish families this Christmas and gave out Christmas food and gift baskets for 4 more families, Point Hope has 7 people going to Sellers tomorrow to participate in the Annual Conference Work Blitz, and we’re meeting after church to be a partner church at a local homeless ministry.  In terms of discipleship, we have breathed new life in our Sunday School classes and opportunities in this newsletter for Families, New Members, and a new Common Grounds Connect Group.  I’ve seen through our “Point Hope Prayer and Encouragement” facebook group and our Tuesday morning prayer time y’all’s deep care for one another and your openness to lay your requests before God and this church so that we can pray for and with you.  We even have people serving at The Citadel for their dinner and worship through Charleston Wesley Foundation on Monday night.  I could go on and on.

God is doing beautiful things in and through Point Hope United Methodist Church by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.  I’m looking forward to leaning into our theme this year “Love God & Love Neighbor” to see how the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us to continue to grow as disciples of Jesus and to share God’s love and grace with the community around us. This chapter of the Bible is titled by the translators “God’s People are Comforted.”  Let’s not simply be comforted but let’s offer God’s comfort to the world.  Lift up your eyes to see the wonderful sprouts rising in our midst and keep your eyes open for all the myriad of possibilities…

Daniel Jester

Isaiah 43:1-7(NRSV)

43 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

When we pick Enoch up from Pinckney Elementary we are to hold this orange sign.  We got this sign, Daniel Jester, at meet the teacher before school started.  Thankfully, Enoch took it in good fun and they sent this new one home on Thursday.  He even started calling himself Dan during specials i.e. music, art, and drama.  He’s clearly embracing his new school and having a little fun too.  Is he a Dan or is he an Enoch?  Those identity questions are important for all of us.  Who am I?  How do I relate in the world?  What am I good at?  Will the teacher call on me?  Will I be picked last for kickball?

 

Isaiah is reassuring the Israelites.  You are children of the Most High.  You were created, formed, and redeemed and I, the Great God of the Universe have called you by name.  Who are we, that the Lord of hosts takes notice of us?  We are God’s beloved children and we can do nothing on earth to separate us from God’s love!
Enoch loves to take pictures and video on my phone.  When I was deleting off the pictures, I found this gem.  Facebook reminded me this morning that I shared this two years ago. It was before he went to bed, he’s talking about living with his mom, dad and sister and he’s praying for his teacher at the time, Ms. Wilkerson. Then he says, “My name is Enoch.  My name is Daniel Enoch Jeter.  It’s in the Bible.  I stand for God.”  I’m going to show it to him tonight to remind of who he is and Whose he is.
 
A friend shared this truth by Richard Rohr, “Life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves, but of uncovering the name we have always had.”  May we all do the hard work of uncovering, shedding, excavating because the highest praise we can give ourselves is to claim and know that we are children of God.  Nothing more, certainly not, nothing less.  As I daily walk the road of mommy, pastor, wife, daughter, sister, and all my other roles, I need a constant reminder of the grace that covers everything.  When I fail, when I don’t get that last i dotted, when I think I’m not enough, I need to rest in God’s love for me.  That’s where my help comes from.  That’s where our kids’ help comes from.  That’s where we place our trust and we live, move and be in that merciful love.  I love this verse from Micah 6:8.  “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  We should all seek to do just that and wait and watch the world transform!

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