Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The month of January takes its name from the ancient Roman god Janus, represented by a figure with two faces looking in opposite directions.  Janus was god of gates and doorways, overseeing comings and goings, endings and beginnings.

In ancient Rome, Janus would have been the symbol of year-end lists. 

As year of our Lord 2012 arrives, we first are invited by various organizations and groups to review  2011.  We are saturated with magazine and media images of the best and worst of the year past:  the most newsworthy people and noteworthy events of 2011; the top-grossing movies or most read books; the top 50 tragic or triumphant scenes; the most intriguing scandals; the faces of joy and sorrow in 2011.  It seems to be conventional practice to look back before we look ahead at 2012..

Looking ahead, on the other hand, er… face, brings mostly speculation while accentuating our need for hope that endures.  Thanks be to God, we CAN carry forward the spiritual gifts and values that saw us through years past.

The testimony to Jesus Christ in our New Testament is replete with lists of spiritual gifts and virtues that will see us through whatever the new year brings, among these:  Romans 5:1-5; I Corinthians 12:4-11; II Corinthians 6:6-7; Galatians 5:22-24 (Fruit of the Spirit); Ephesians 6 (The Whole Armor of God); Philippians 4:8-9; Colossians 12-16; I Thessalonians 5; I Timothy 4:12, 6:11; Titus 2; James 3:17-18; I Peter 3:8; II Peter 1:3-7; Jude 20-21. 

The apostles loved to list the old life with its practices better left behind – gossip, wrath, malice, etc.  But they also pointed forward gratefully to new life in Jesus Christ and listed the many gifts Jesus bestows on his disciples.  And the greatest of these [gifts] is love.  (I Cor. 13:13).

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And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

 

“Then John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’” – Luke 1:67-79

 

At the circumcision of his son John, Zechariah spoke the above prophesy about what God was doing for the world (the big picture) as well as for his son (the smaller picture).  John, later known as the Baptist, indeed cried out to all, pointing to Jesus as messiah.  While this prophesy was made for and about John, it can also apply to us.  We are all called to give knowledge to the world of salvation in Jesus Christ. 

Leading the Children’s Christmas Eve service is one of my favorite things that I do at FPC.  While it is a little bit like herding cats, when it all comes together, it is incredible.  I think the thing that I like the most is seeing our children leading the congregation in worship during one of the most important services of the year.  With their reading scripture, singing songs and acting out the story of Christ’s birth, they point to the messiah who came as a child.  We cannot, however, allow the fact that they are children shield us from hearing the rest of their message.  Each one of the kids in our Children’s Christmas Eve service are boldly following the call to, “go before the Lord to prepare his ways, and give knowledge of salvation to his people about the forgiveness of their sins.” 

Are we brave enough to follow their lead?

 

 If you’d like, join us for the 5:30 Children’s Christmas Eve service:you do not have to have children or be a child to attend.  Watch as the kids of FPC help us to return to the manger and the awesome birth of Jesus the Christ.  You’re free to return to a totally different service (the fantastic service of candlelight and communion led by adults) at 8:00.

Our Savior’s Family Tree

“Who are your people?”  It’s a common question here in the deep south, but it’s an age-old question for understanding and accepting a newcomer.  As long as there have been families and tribes, we get to know them through their lineage, their people.  We often “place” folks by their family connections.

Matthew begins his Gospel of Jesus Christ by lisring the geneaology of Jesus, making a point of answering that age-old question:  Who are the Messiah’s people?  In doing so, Matthew traces the Savior’s line for us and TO us.

If you read Matthew 1:1-17, this geneology of Jesus extends roughly 840 years (3 lists of 14 generations each, figuring about 20 years per generation).  The Messiah’s ancestors move from the homeless nomad Abraham to the high point of Israel’s monarchy during the reigns of Kings David and Solomon to the low point of Israel’s deportation in captivity to Babylon to the high point of all human history — “Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah” (1:16). 

But along with tracing broad moments in Israel’s history, our Savior’s family tree includes pagans and prostitutes, adulterers and ego-maniacs, and ends with a young maiden in an out-of-the-way village, the virgin Mary.  Matthew opens his account of our Savior by tracing the line of Jesus’ earthly family, and in an UNUSUAL manner for a Jewish geneaology, includes not only men but women.  And what women!

Looking at Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, we see full humanity connnected to Jesus.  Three of these four women are Gentiles and one quite possibly marries a Gentile.  And then there’s Mary, merely a maiden. 

You see, as much as Christ Jesus embodies a new actof divine creation by the power of the Holy Spirit, he also represents a family of questionable parentage, including several men and women of ill repute and compromised virute and uncertain futures.  Augustine, 5th century bishop and a towering teacher of Christian faith, once described the Church as a “mixed body.” 

By starting the Gospel with a family tree, Matthew alerts us and all people that God has truly come to us as one of us.  Like so many of our biblical ancestors, our lives can be a tangle of ambiguity, mixed motives, or selfish acts.  And yet, it is precisely to be with us imperfect men and women that God comes in Jesus Christ.

So if your life is a mixed bag, we have a place in our Savior’s family tree.  We have a place in the stable, kneeling with gritty shepherds and with majestic magi.

The King Approaches

Have you ever really considered the details of Christmas?  This week in Sunday school my class took time to think about the particulars of the birth of Christ: the sights (of Angels, but also of rats and an Inn with no room), the smells (animals, blood, sweat, frankenscence), the sounds (praises sung, but also the cries of a mother in labor), the feel (of straw and dirt, and the cold touch of gold), the taste (of cool air, of stale bread). 

…The coming of our King of Kings, of Emmanuel: God with us wasn’t as beautiful as we’d like to imagine it.  That said, it was incredible… and we are so thankful.

 Consider this video (thank you Adam Stricker): The Christmas Tale  

 Psalm 24:7-10

Lift up your heads, O gates!
   and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
   that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
   The Lord, strong and mighty,
   the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
   and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
   that the King of glory may come in. 
Who is this King of glory?
   The Lord of hosts,
   he is the King of glory.

There are 2 weeks until we worship at the feet of our newborn King- are we ready?

Ready for Christmas?

     “Are you ready for Christmas?”

     It’s a common question from friend and stranger alike in these weeks before Christmas arrives.  I realize that folks are asking about the activities so associated with Christmas season — shopping, decorating, attending or scheduling Christmas parties and events, tree trimming, online ordering, mailing, wrapping or “gift bagging,” menu planning, baking, sermonizing (for us preachers), or an “earthly host” of other seasonal preparations.

     In my reading and preaching in Luke during this Advent season, I find Luke highlighting three crucial activities associated with our Lord’s birth:

  • Pondering in one’s heart (Luke 1:29, 1:66, 2:19, 2:51) 
  • Singing praises (Luke 1:46-55, The “Magnificat,” sung by Mary; Luke 1:67-79, the “Benedictus,” sung by Zechariah; Luke 2:14, the heavenly host’s Gloria; Luke 2:29-32, the “Nunc dimittis,” sung by Simeon)
  • Expecting the fulfillment of God’s promises (Luke 1:13-17, 1:30-33, 1:41-45, 1:67-79, 2:10-12, 2:25-35, 2:36-38)

     Are we ready for Christmas?  Listening to Luke, my Christmas readiness becomes a matter of pondering Gods’ word and work in Jesus.  My Christmas readiness requires a soundtrack of praise and rejoicing in Immanuel.   Are we expectant, watching for and awaiting Christ’s advent here and now?   Amid all the holiday hoopla and excess, do I expect a holy message? 

    Yes, I have my own Christmas “to do” list, but I believe I will miss Christmas entirely if I do not put pondering, praising, and expecting at the top of my Christmas list.  And when we have packed up the Christmas decorations, returned the gifts that did not fit, put away any leftovers, and wrapped up the holy season of Christmas, may our faithful pondering, singing, and expecting our Lord’s advent continue.

Listening

Looking Forward is what Christians like to do during Advent.  We get caught up in the anticipation of the ‘Good News of Great Joy which will be to All People!’  Advent is also a time of looking back- remembering whose we are and why we know this.  The word “Advent” comes from a Latin word that means “to come.”  It is the season to look back to the coming of Christ as an infant born in a stable in Bethlehem, and look forward to Christ’s coming again.  The Advent season is a strange and wonderful time…  I think Frederick Buechner captures the feeling of Advent best:

“In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is off in the deep of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of silence itself.  You hold your breath to listen.  You are aware of the beating of your own heart.  Advent is the name of that moment.  For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.” (from Whistling in the Dark)

Stop and Listen!  Joy to the World! The Lord is Come!