While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Luke 2:6-7, CEB
Just as Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus in his humble birthplace, may we too care for Jesus by caring for those closest to us. I pray as well that our reflections on the Nativity story will open our hearts, and our guestrooms, for Jesus to be borne into our daily life experiences.
This reminds me of the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, was written about the days of celebration following Christmas, and not Advent, the days leading up to Christmas. This means that the entire Christmas observance could last about six and a half weeks. That’s a long time!
The length of the season seems fitting since the Christmas story contains many journeys and periods of waiting. If we consider Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth, they traveled just over 100 miles.
In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Luke 2:1-7, CEB
The beauty of the Christmas story is that it’s rooted in the reality of human experience. We can look at the journey Joseph and Mary took and find some parallel in our personal lives. For me, I have been on a long journey with depression. God has helped me to experience the high places and met me in the lowest valleys. Even though I deal with depression daily, the Lord has filled my heart with hope that one day I will walk truly free. The key for me is keeping my heart open, along with my hands and mind, to see Jesus, the promised deliverer, present in my situation through people and practice, family and faithfulness, community and commitment.
The encouragement I have received from the Christmas story and want to share with you is that God is no stranger to our humanity and is not adverse to meeting us where we are right now. Emmanuel, God with us. This is God’s gift to me this Christmas. I pray it is yours as well.
Happy Thanksgiving! I am grateful for you and everyone that makes up our dear church family, locally and abroad. I trust that you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. All I have is a simple encouragement to share with you this week.
When you gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, take a moment for yourself and sit off to the side, but in view of where everyone is gathered. Pause, and with a few deep breaths, take in what you see with a heart of gratitude.
“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are generous, your whole body also is full of light.” – Jesus, Luke 11:34, NIV
Let the transformative power of gratitude can give you a fresh perspective on the moment as you breathe in God’s love and grace for you today.
The smile of a child and the laughter of children as they play make the world go around day after day.
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” Matthew 21:16, NIV
I had the privilege of offering a prayer at my friends’ wedding last night. As I was saying a few words of introduction prior to the prayer, I quipped to the wedding couple, Michael and Stacey, that it’s difficult for me to do anything without making a theological statement. Below is the prayer I offered.
Deliciousness! Courtesty of Chef Cesar Alvarado.
Lift up your heads. Unfold your hands. And, look around at the wonderful people you are sharing this moment with, especially Michael and Stacey.
God, we thank you for this beautiful day and this beautiful new family, Mike and Stacey Reed.
We also thank you for this meal that is set before us, and the honor to share in it with Mike and Stacey, since it is their first meal together as husband and wife.
God, you established the sharing of a meal as more than just replenishing our bodies with the necessary nutrition for the next few hours.
And we thank you that when we sit down to eat together, we are not only sharing food with one another, but a bit or ourselves as well.
This is why eating together is enjoyable and something to be cherished.
God, you gave us Jesus as an example for our lives, even how to share a meal.
We see that during his life time, Jesus showed us the importance of sharing a meal together. At the wedding feast in Cana, he allowed himself to be revealed as more than just a tradesman, but as your son, bearing your glory as he provided better wine, which was only moments before, water in stone vessels. That must have been a great party!
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he chose to eat with those whom he cared for, whether they be a high ranking religious leader or a street level outcast, that in his day would have been called “unclean.” By eating with them, he declared their dignity as your sons and daughters by cherishing them as individuals and enjoying the moments they shared together.
Lastly, when Jesus was preparing himself to go to the cross, he shared a last meal with his disciples. This last supper revealed your love for us with the bread being a symbol of Christ’s broken body and the wine as his shed blood, both for our healing and restoration and a reminder of your enduing covenant to be integrally involved with us in every aspect of our lives. For you, God, are most often found where you are least expected, even down to the simple and routine moments of life.
God, we know that when we sit down together to share a meal, we can trust that a few things can happen. We can learn a bit about one another as we allow ourselves to be known. We can experience a sense of the divine when we honor the dignity of the ones we’re with as your children. Lastly, we can be nourished in body, soul, and spirit as we take the time to allow this meal to be all that you intended it to be for us.
Now, as our stomachs are grumbling in anticipation for this wonderful meal prepared by Chef Cesar Alvarado, we again give you thanks for Mike and Stacey, their marriage, and this honor to enjoy with them their first meal as a husband and wife.
We pray this in the name of your son Jesus Christ. Amen.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Here is a little free-verse for you.
Whatever the origins of this holiday are
and no matter what culture and society
have done to monetize it,
this holiday celebrates
the love we have for one another,
which can quite rightly include
God’s love for us,
and ours for God.
May we be known as a people
who love God best
by loving others well,
and that everyday for us
would be Valentine’s Day.
Of any church I have ever attended, VLC has the best fellowship by far! I am blessed by our commitment to eat together, including all the preparations by our designated hosts and by you all on the fourth Sunday of each month. It’s a delight to sit down across the table from a loving and smiling face and get to know each other and support one another. This is something to be treasured!
I used the word fellowship above on purpose to describe our church family meals together. The word “fellow” conjures up notions of being on the same level, none being more important than another. It also describes the fact that we are all in this together. * I think it’s significant that we use fellowship along with our meal time, since when we sit down to eat we are, again, all at the same level, sharing a friendly, yet intimate, experience.
Being “people of the table” means more that just celebrating Communion, but it does include that. When Jesus gave us the practice of Communion, it was a part of a larger meal. When the early church worshipped and fellowshipped together, they did so house to house, sharing meals. I believe that when we sit down together for a meal we are declaring our unity, that together we are one as we enjoy God’s presence during our meal. For me that too is communion.
Lastly, Stuart Nice, in his Daily Scripture Reading email for Thursday, January 21, shared with us about Recognizing Our Brother. It is a great article on what little actually separates us when we choose to see Jesus in one another. As I read this I was reminded of the post-resurrection story of the disciple on the road to Emmaus. There Jesus meets them on the road, though they didn’t recognize him. He then sits down with them for a meal. While he is breaking the bread he is revealed to them, and they are revealed both to themselves and each other. Their example to us was that our hearts and lives can be expanded when we choose to be open to the leading of God’s Spirit and have eyes open to see Jesus in one another. These are also the marks of being People of the Table.
Grace and peace,
The etymology of the word “fellowship” comes from the Old English, meaning, literally, “one who lays down money in a joint enterprise.” Fellowship occurs when we commit and invest lives to Christ and one another.
An Advent Reflection for December 20, 2015, the Fourth Sunday of Advent
I trust you are experiencing a deep sense of joy and peace as you prepare for the Christmas holiday next week! I pray that we all have the heart of a child that revels in the joyous expectation of all that Christmas is and can be!
The theme for this Fourth Sunday of Advent is Love. It is more than obvious that we express our love during Christmas by giving gifts. Recently I saw a plaque with this quote on it.
Yesterday is the past. Tomorrow is the future. Today is a gift of God. That is why it is called the present.
When I read it, I immediately questioned if it was true, so I looked up the etymology of the word present. As it turns out, it’s not that far off. Sparing the details, present literally means “to be before,” which is more commonly rendered “to be at hand.” The time that is at hand is the present. This also refers to being present. The word present gains the meaning of gift, because to give a gift is to “put a thing into the presence of a person.”
I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that we can express our love by giving a present, being present, and being in the present this Christmas.
Listen! The virgin shall conceive a child! She shall give birth to a Son, and he shall be called ‘Emmanuel’ (meaning “God is with us.”)”
(Matthew 1:23, TLB)
May we find the perfect way to show those close to us how much we love them through our expression of present!
Have you ever had a moment that you feel your eyes have been opened to a hidden reality or an experience that transcends the visible so that you can observe the fabric that holds together everything you are experiencing right now? These events are rare gifts. They definitely don’t happen for me very often. None the less, I would like to share with you one of these moments that I experienced just last weekend.
Autumn and I, with our five kids, were on vacation visiting family in the Los Angeles area. It was an informal family reunion. All of Autumn’s family, except one brother, live in LA. Her middle brother, who lives in Seattle, drove for 20 hours, nearly non-stop, with his wife and daughter to be there to see family. Even though we stayed in a hotel, the hub of our vacation was my wife’s grandparent’s house. We gathered there every day to go swimming, share at least one meal, and see the extended family as they came and went. It was a very rich time.
On Sunday evening I was sitting next to the pool with my wife’s granddad and her brother from Seattle. We had just finished eating dinner and the kids were already back in the pool. In that moment of repose, I found myself replaying the previous day’s events with family from all over the LA area coming over and visiting and recalling the grace and openness with which my wife’s grandparents received everyone that walked over their threshold. It reminded me of what Jesus said in the Beatitudes.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
(Matthew 5:5, NIV)
I recently wrote about meekness as “the strength to embrace one’s limitations.” I now see it to include the ability to hold lightly to the things that we posses so that it can be a blessing to those we interact with. I clearly saw this in Autumn’s grandparents. Their love, compassion, and grace over the years wove together a fabric of meekness that not only brought us all together but even held us all together.
Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth. This is far greater than wealth and property. It expands to include people with whom you can share your life and all that comes with it. I saw the richness of meekness in Autumn’s grandparents because they were surrounded by people they loved and who love them back. May we strive for this type of inheritance.
A few months ago, I was at a Day Retreat organized by Josh Pinkston for the Foursquare pastors in our area. The focus of the retreat was prayer and meditation. Only four of us came. As we gathered, we took prayer requests. Then we dispersed to pray. As I looked over the prayer requests, including my own, they all seemed to embody a Beatitude, which provided a beautiful focus for prayer. Oddly enough, I found some blank notecards in my Bible. For each of the prayer requests I wrote down the Beatitude and a sentence or two of affirmation and encouragement. My prayer request was to be an instrument of God’s peace. This is what I wrote for myself.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
(Matthew 5:9, NIV)
“God’s presence is peaceful, but not comfortable. Peacemakers find themselves in places of conflict and by being present, expressing God’s peace, work to establish the kinship of God.”
In my study of the Beatitudes lately, coming to this one brought back a flood of memories from that Day Retreat. The thing that stood out to me the most that day, and still does, is the idea of the kinship of God. This produced a sort of “if – then” formula in my mind. “If peacemakers are called God’s children, then God must be a God of peace.” This equation can also be flipped. “If God is a God of peace, then God’s children must be peacemakers.” This is where I find my heart. I want to be a peacemaker.
“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” – A. J. Muste
Peacemakers are traditionally defined as, “a person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries.” I would like to redefine what a peacemaker is as one who creates an environment of peace. Peaceful environments can naturally bring about a resolution to conflict. Otherwise we are left with less than peaceful means by which we try to establish a conflict reduced situation based on contingency and condition. Not exactly peace.
Last weekend, at the VLC Family Camp, getting kids to settle down and go to sleep in the cabin is always a challenge. At one point, our three younger children, who were seriously over tired for a day full of play, all started to melt down. I realized that Autumn and I had become ping-pong balls in the middle of their chaos, so I went over to one end of the room and sat on the floor. A few moments later, Lillian, the youngest, walked over to me sobbing and sat down on my lap. She calmed down and was soon in bed. The tension in the room was deflated, which allowed Autumn to help get the next two kids situated in bed. When we choose to not feed the conflict, the conflict will begin to resolve itself.
One other example that I have come across that demonstrates peace through kinship is Father Gregory Boyle. He is the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, CA. Their purpose is to “provide hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.” The driving philosophy within the organization is “kinship.” Upon entering the Homeboy program, each person begins to understand that the person working next to them are their brother or sister, even if they are formerly from rival gangs. The environment of peace established by Father Greg and his staff empowers this concept of kinship, which translates to changed lives and renewed futures for those who work through this program. Here is a TED talk from Father Greg telling the story of kinship. Make sure you have tissues nearby!
Peace is one of those ideals that humanity strives after for millennia, but striving doesn’t produce peace. Only peace produces peace. Peacemakers don’t make peace; they are peace!
My hope is that people of peace establish environments of peace where the kinship of God can flourish through the act of being peace, a family of peace.