5th Day of Christmas – Hope

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AM Psalm 18:1-20; PM Psalm 18:21-50
2 Samuel 23:13-17bRev. 1:1-8John 7:37-52

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.”

It is a strange blessing – the only one of its kind, best I can tell.  It is how the Book of Revelation begins.

John knew and understood that the human condition was not still perfect.  People lived in persecution.  Chaos abounded.  He was providing an antidote to this, by allowing for the possibility that God’s kingdom has not come to complete fulfillment yet.  There is a better time around the corner.

This is an incredibly important message of hope to hear at this time of year.  Christmastide can often be filled with gloom for many.  From bills that pile up, to family stresses, it can also be a time that evokes difficult memories.  I never understood the extent of these kinds of stresses until I heard the confessions of congregants – and how Christmas for them meant a time to go visit extended relatives, like the uncle who abused them in their youth, or reconnecting with a parent who was a raging alcoholic.  It was anything but pleasant memories.

Part of the message of the Incarnation is one of hope, of new birth, of God in our midst.  It is a message of “turning the page” and knowing that God stands with us through dark times.

May the light of the Christmas season break forth for you today.  And may you rest in the hope of the Word Made Flesh, who comes to give all new birth.

 

A Merry Christmas to you all!

-Matt

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4th Day of Christmas – Holy Innocents

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AM Psalm 226Isaiah 49:13-23Matthew 18:1-14
PM Psalm 19126Isaiah 54:1-13Mark 10:13-16

Holy Innocents: Psalm 124;  
Jeremiah 31:15-17
Revelation 21:1-7Matthew 2:13-18

Making heads or tails of the Slaughter of the Innocents is not an easy task.  I suppose all there is to say is that this crazy evil story shows us that love is stronger than hate and that God will find a way.

It is also a reminder of how dangerous this story is.  All those in power should be terrified of Jesus and this story – because the very nature of the gospel is that Jesus threatens established power.  Nothing can withstand the power of God.  No amount of guns will save you.  God will win, and triumph over your violent tendencies and evil motives.  Watch out.

-M

3rd Day of Christmas – St. John

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AM: Psalm 9798Proverbs 8:22-30John 13:20-35
PM: Psalm 145Isaiah 44:1-81 John 5:1-12

Today is the Feast Day of St. John.  Challenging words come to the disciples in John: “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.”  Peter whines a bit and says that he would lay down his life for Jesus.  When the rooster crows, we learn otherwise.

The command is to love one another.  This is easier said than done!  After all, their new found religion is one where God comes to earth and is denied by his own people.  One doesn’t have to look much further from Christ himself to see how hard this is.  One of his closest followers betrays him.  Another denies him at his most vulnerable.

That message is one of LOVE, which is an appropriate Christmas gift our readings deliver to us this day – the 3rd Day of Christmas.  John spoke much about love, especially in his epistles.  It is not just a message of love, but that God’s love extends even to those we thought were left out of the story – us!

The principles of our religion may seem a little backward to those who don’t understand: turn the other cheek – love your enemy.  Our call is not to war with others, but to war with evil itself, and follow the Prince of Peace – to crush death and destruction, and sow seeds of love in this light, even if that means dying oneself.

So here we are!  God-with-us has saved us from the tyranny of life.  Merry Christmas!  God is with us on this journey!  And that, my friends, is part of the miraculous Christmas message for us – a message of incarnational grace and the journey of the Spirit – God with us.

-Matt

2nd Day of Christmas – St. Stephen

AM: Psalm 28302   Chronicles 24:17-22Acts 6:1-7
PM: Psalm 118Wisdom 4:7-15Acts 7:59-8:8

The 2nd Day of Christmas is the Feast Day of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the faith and first Deacon.

What better way to celebrate the Incarnation than seeing the faith alive in someone so profoundly?  It is like I said the morning of Christmas Eve: YOU ARE A VESSEL.  Stephen was certainly a Vessel of grace for the Lord.

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Stephen understood and lived out the incarnation, spending his life transforming the world through care, touch, generosity to the poor.  As a Deacon, as the church’s first Deacon, he blazed a trail of outreach and evangelical fervor by living out the faith, reaching out to the poor and destitute.

With his life, he could not help but sing GLORY TO GOD!  With every fiber of his being, he radiated the joy of the gospel, in rhythm with God and with those around him.  Even as he faced persecution and death, he sang GLORY TO GOD, and stood unafraid.

I invite you to watch the World Council of Churches’ Christmas message for this year: Be not afraid!  Click the video above. (Or if for some reason the video did not come through, here’s the link: https://youtu.be/u7KSvZXnVZw )

As I watched this video I thought of saints like Stephen, who stood unafraid and kept the song of our faith moving forward.

A Merry Christmas to you.

-Matt

Christmas Day

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AM Psalm 285; PM Psalm 110:1-5(6-7)132
Micah 4:1-5,5:2-41 John 4:7-16John 3:31-36

A Merry Christmas to you all!

As the presents are unwrapped and our living rooms become a sea of wrapping paper, discarded bows, and cellophane, let me remind you: the best present is not one that in unwrapped – Jesus Christ, the Word became Flesh, God with us.

Each year, there is one aspect of Christmas that troubles me.  Just as Christmas arrives, the world seems intent on throwing Him away and moving on to the world’s next warped sacred-turned-profane celebration.

Don’t throw away Jesus!  We Christians are just getting started.  Today is the first day of Christmas – the 1st of 12 – twelve days to revel in the splendor and joy of the Christmas season.

The consumer world in which we live has already cast Jesus aside for Valentine’s Day (yes, all the stores are already set up for Valentine’s Day.  A walk through the candy aisle yesterday yielded no Christmas-themed candy I was looking for, as both sides were stock full of Valentine’s Day boxes).  Don’t fall for it!  Don’t throw Jesus away.

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We will need at least 12 days to comprehend what just happened.  The mystery of God among us will take some getting used to.  We might even need the Epiphany Season, nearly the whole month of January, to figure out what it means to spread the light of God and share in the joy at the manger.

So keep that tree up.  Keep those outdoor lights on!  We have many more Christmas celebrations ahead.  The presents continue to be unwrapped.

As you throw away that used wrapping paper, be sure to separate out the real reason for the season.

Merry Christmas to you!  And again.  And again.

-Matt

 

 

Merry Christmas to ALL

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AM Psalm 24, 29; PM Psalm 8, 84
Gen 3:8-15Rev. 12:1-10John 3:16-21

Christmas Eve:
PM Psalm 89:1-29
Isa. 59:15b-21Phil. 2:5-11

A Merry Christmas to all!  I am back from a week in New Orleans.  It was a delightful time of togetherness and great food.

I arrive back to my Morning Reflection routine as well.  We near the end of Advent, and pivot to the alternate readings for Christmas Eve as well.  But there is no real “pivot” for the same themes of hope and joy are as evident as when we started Advent.

Hope and joy are densely packed into both sets of readings – chuck full like taste and flavor are packed into gumbo.

On Christmas Eve we remember a central pillar of our faith: God’s incarnation.  It is a story of terror and amazement.  It is a story that has shocked generations.  Our densely packed themes of Hope and Joy are found throughout the readings for the 12 Days of Christmas too.

In the midst of the craziness of this season, we pause and reflect on the extreme and extraordinary stories of God’s grace.

One of these stories of grace may seem a bit odd for Christmas – the most quoted scripture – the John 3:16 passage.  Often seen at football games, with someone with a sign or a player who has it written in his eye black on his face.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

It is unfortunate a passage so chuck full of God’s grace has been boiled down to a tiny verse which then misses the central point of the passage completely.  On the surface this 3:16 seems damning, and has been used as such – used in some evangelical fervor to beat people over the heads, so warped it’s akin to an abusive relationship.

Often at games I am tempted to hold up a sign that says “JOHN 3:17”.  God’s story rarely comes to us in one verse, or one tweet.  We must read on to discover how chuck full of God’s grace this passage truly is.

John 3:17 declares “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  The passage goes on to talk about judgment as if it is something for God alone, and not for us to be deciding.  Our focus in on good deeds and staying in “the light.”

It turns out that John 3 warns against the very thing that people intentionally or unintentionally do with their “3:16” signs.  By casting judgment on people, we miss the point of God’s purposes for us.

You see why I say this verse is CHUCK FULL O’ GRACE?

For John, everything seems to stem back to the premise that he laid out at the beginning: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.”  Everything that follows is an explanation and expansion of that.

And this is why it is part of our Christmas trajectory of readings.  It is a great passage to encase us in God’s grace.  We are left as believers reveling in God’s wisdom all around us.  We have seen our lives changed.  We enjoy and celebrate God, feasting on the goodness of God, and sharing that feast with others.

So don’t let the meekness and mildness of Christmas fool you.

It is the story of a fragile little infant born to a 13 year old unwed mother.  But in that tiny baby is another grand vision of God’s love – a vision that includes the whole world.  It is a story that welcomes all of us in.

You heard me right – ALL.  It is a vision of radical love – unexpected and unbridled.  In that manger holds the beacon of light for all to see, and the hope of the future, the Prince of Peace, and the joy of the whole world.  And it is intended for ALL.

A Merry Christmas to you all!

-Matt

Advent Devotionals

I have decided to take a break from Morning Reflections for most of Advent.  For one thing, I have a Clerk’s Colloquium coming up that takes me out of pocket for a few days.  Then there is the annual family Christmas in New Orleans.

I will be back up and running for the 12 Days of Christmas.

OK, let me encourage you: A number of our seminaries have Advent devotionals.  Let Advent be a change of pace for you, and engage with one of them.  Pittsburgh’s is nice, free, easy to access, and written by many of their doctoral students.  You can download the whole PDF, or download their app.

pittsburghThe Pittsburgh Seminary’s Advent Devotional is available through a free app for your Android or Apple device. Look for an icon like the one on the left.  Visit the Google Play Store or iTunes Store and search for “Devotions – Advent & Lent” or follow these link from your mobile device: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=edu.pts.devotions (Android) or https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/devotions-advent-lent/id945697533?ls=1&mt=8 (Apple).

May this time of waiting and preparation become for you a time of anticipation and joy.

-Matt