9 The true light that shines on all people
was coming into the world.
10 The light was in the world,
and the world came into being through the light,
but the world didn’t recognize the light.
11 The light came to his own people,
and his own people didn’t welcome him.
12 But those who did welcome him,
those who believed in his name,
he authorized to become God’s children,
13 born not from blood
nor from human desire or passion,
but born from God.
14 The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.
John 1: 9-14 CEB
While I worked at First Atlanta, the fourth Sunday in Advent was always used to do a dramatic retelling of the Nativity. It always ended with John 1. It has left a mark on me, and I want to end Advent with a excerpt from the first chapter of John. There are a couple of reasons for this:
First of all, John 1 tells creation through the lens of Christ. We go from being born of the world to being born in Christ. Considering I'm doing a baptism tonight, it's a beautiful reminder of the bigger picture. We have gone from "the beginning," to "beginning again."
Secondly, John brings context to that center candle on the advent wreath. Christ is the light of the world. It shines in the darkest places; highlights the the most forgotten and excluded among us.
We are reminded that the light came into the world to be in one place at one time. It dwelt among us. However, eventually something happened. Instead of the light going away, it remained in the form of the Spirit. Now the light is in all places at all times. Christ brings order to the chaos. Christ allows us to begin again.
Merry Christmas everyone! No matter what your circumstance, may God's love shine within you, and light your darkness!
What a scandalous moment! God comes to dwell among us, not as the mighty warrior king, but as a baby. Peace won over vengeance. Love won over anger. God made flesh in the most innocent way possible.
We gather around the communion table because of this scandal. Even in that upper room the Disciples didn't understand. It's my belief the reason Judas was turning Jesus over to the Romans, was to force his hand., Judas wanted the Warrior to emerge from the man. Only God made flesh to begin again; to rewrite the story towards love instead of vengeance.
What you do with what you have is who you are. God had/has/will have everything. Yet, God chose to use sacrificial love to change act in the world. What do we do with that?
Dear Holy Comforter,
When we ask for vengeance, you give us peace. When we ask for anger, you give us love. When we want war, you give us yourself in the most innocent and helpless form possible.
If Jesus is the human embodiment of love, Mary is everything leading up to it. I'm speaking of hope, peace, and joy. As a pregnant unwed mother, she had to first hope for something more or better. Then, she had to come to peace with the condition she was currently in. Finally, joy burst forth at the news that she would be the mother of the Son of God.
I've struggled understanding Mary. Its this love/hate relationship I have with her. On one hand I want to raise up how incredibly amazing she is. On the other hand, I don't want to get sucked into female roles, or transcending them. For me, she becomes the one biblical character we cannot separate from her gender. Mary, the mother. We have to understand her just as she is: a young girl forced into marriage. She was like many girls during this time. I'd struggle to find her hope, peace and joy in the midst of the servitude she naturally lived in. Yet, every year I focus in on her. I guess she reminds me how God uses anyone that fits within the divine plan. Also, to be grateful to be a free.
Three more days until Christmas. How do you connect to Mary?
Dear Breath of Heaven,
Hold me together. Lighten my darkness.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:18-20 CEB
Never discount the ones who have the choice to do the right thing. Mary had no choice. She was a young girl, pregnant out of wedlock. She didn't choose to be pregnant. She didn't choose to marry Joseph, her parents did. Joseph was full of options. The most comfortable choice he could have made was to divorce her. His life would have continued with just a little discomfort. Instead, he did what was right, and took Mary as his wife. His choice saved Mary, Jesus, and the story of salvation.
Often times, the world is changed by those who leave their comfort to do something right. Then God can bring love to the world. Other times, the world is changed because those who are comfortable are too afraid to do the right thing. Then people like Hitler have the opportunity to rise.
Which one are you?
Dear Holy Parent,
Teach us the right way, and show us how to follow it.
Then Shepherds removed the animals from the stable, because it was not their place to be with the King of Kings.
SAID NO BIBLE EVER!
Sometimes we get so caught up on the people, we forget all of creation was invited! It's the perspective change Job received. We are not the center of the universe. It doesn't matter what we were given dominion over. We are caretakers, not overlords.
If Jesus came to bring hope, peace, joy, and love, it was to all of creation. Jesus came to bring reorder to the chaotic Creation. All of it.
There are moments where we can see the vastness of God. There are moments where we realize the picture is bigger than we realize.
Have you ever had a moment where you realized the picture was bigger than you previously realized?
Dear Creator of Heaven and Earth,
Help us accept your love, as we attempt to love your creation.
Every time I imagine the nativity, the manger probably throws me for the biggest loop. Last year, for the "From Her Voice" devotions, I literally made two for the devotional image. Eventually I scrapped both and just put Jesus in Mary's arms. There is nothing terribly compelling about it. It was a box used to feed the animals. I mean, when Dorothy falls into the pigsty, in MGM's Wizard of Oz, I didn't jump up and go, "That's an awesome feeding trough! Wow!" When I watched the cartoon and live action Charlotte's Web I didn't really pay attention to the trough Timpleton stood on to collect Wilbur's food.
I don't know. Maybe one of the elements we should take away from the manger is the simplicity. New beginnings are often simple. They just make sense. There is not much explanation needed. It simply is. Oh, that's the wooden/stone box Jesus slept in? Oh, yeah, the manger. Of course! Sometimes we get so convoluted with our explanations, we forget sometimes it's just so simple. God loves us.
What are you overthinking right now?
Where did we get this notion that every hour of every day has to be filled with something? We sit in silent stillness longer than 20 or so seconds before we are turning something on to fill the void.
There is a reason peace must come before the birth. We must de-clutter our life first. Really. Our life is full of crap. There are tons of useless things we do; that don't need to be done. Until we clean that mess up, how are we to see the simple story of Grace God has set up for us? Until we can turn off the distractions, how can Christmas shine through with it's real meaning?
What's keeping you from peace right now?
Holy God of all,
Help us find space to know not everything must be at all times. Help us find time to let go and be at peace.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff— they protect me.
Psalm 23:4 CEB
If the Lord is our Shepherd, than we are the sheep.What fickle creatures we are too. In our fast food culture, as soon as something doesn't smell just right we pack up and find a new fold. I've done it. I've seen countless others do it too. This has created multiple problems for the modern church. First, it can displace the truly wounded within our fold. There are churches that refuse to heal, and we should never force the victim to worship with the wolf. Second, up and leaving a congregation doesn't really solve anything. The initial problem that led to the exodus still remains with the church. Third, there is a false sense of accomplishment within new church plants as growth comes from disenfranchised Christians, not new members to the Body of Christ.
Even with our wounded, wandering fickleness, we are invited to be part of the birth. It's part of the story. There is something perfect about the imperfect elements coming together in the nativity. Symbolically, one of these elements are us. We are invited too.
Where is your Shepherd? How do you remain in God's fold?
Dear Lord and Shepherd,
Protect us from the wolves. Keep us connect. Guide us to Jesus.
Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night.
Luke 2:8 CEB
Is there anything I can honestly connect with these men? Yeah, I lived a few years on a very basic farm, but that's not even coming close. I grew up in a home with electricity, television, some form of air conditioning, fresh food all year long... I don't think our culture could possibly understand who or what a biblical shepherd was. Yet, the biblical image planted over and over is God as our shepherd.
While we are more comfortable now, their life was more basic. They lived and cared for sheep in an environment we believe is necessary to live. (i.e. without a home with electricity.) If anything, they remind us that Jesus didn't to Earth with pomp & circumstance. Jesus came as a simple baby. The shepherds were invited, and were symbolic of this arrival. God gave up everything to be with us.
What "necessity" are you too caught up on this Advent season?
Dear Lord, our Shepherd,
As you stay in our field with us, remind us of the simple truths in life.
"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
Matthew 2:1-2 CEB
Without the Magi this is really an inside story. Jesus was born in a Jewish city, to Jewish parents, with Jewish witnesses. The Magi become the first outsiders invited into the story. They would not be the last. Jesus' story, from beginning to end, is a story of inclusion.
What I love about many of the outsiders in the bible, especially the Magi, are their inquisitive nature. They seek answers to questions without fear of what those answers are. It is in seeking they find miracles. As Christians, we too must find that inquisitive spirit to seek the truth.
Find a scripture you love and spend about 20 minutes asking questions about the text.
Dear God of Answers to our many questions,
Help us learn to seek, so that we may truly find you.