Emmanuel

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#Advent14 — In The Midst

A reading from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians.

Celebrate always, pray constantly, and give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. This is God’s will for all of you in Jesus the Anointed. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t downplay prophecies. Take a close look at everything, test it, then cling to what is good. Put away every form of evil.

So now, may the God of peace make you His own completely and set you apart from the rest. May your spirit, soul, and body be preserved, kept intact and wholly free from any sort of blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus the Anointed. For the God who calls you is faithful, and He can be trusted to make it so.

— 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (VOICE)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Somewhere between the promise of rescue and the actual rescue, we will find ourselves in circumstances where life really sucks. That place where grief is pressing in. Where hurt and pain are rampant. Where it seems impossible to imagine a Rescuer is even on the way at all.

In times like these it's easy to wonder about God. What is He up to? Why can't all things just work together for good now and not someday? Where is the comfort and peace and life and love?

Wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes. Famines. Death.

We learned over the weekend of the death of a dear saint. We didn't know Sheila well, but we did know that her life was one of incredible devotion and service and love. She lived at the YWAM (Youth With a Mission) facility in Colorado Springs. She loved the children on that campus and they loved her. Yet, over the weekend she passed from this life to the next. Passed from living life in the in-between and into the fulfillment of the Kingdom. The very Kingdom that she had labored throughout her life to bring to earth.

Now, Sheila sits with that great cloud of witnesses and cheers on those children that she loved. And, we mourn, yet we mourn with hope. We mourn not as a people for whom death is a finale, but rather we mourn as a people for whom death is just another beginning–Easter People.

Yet, Easter is just another Sunday without Advent. Without the hope and the waiting and the manger and the angels and the wise men and the shepherds and a humble young girl and an obedient husband, there is no reason to grieve with hope.

For Paul and these Thessalonian believers, pain and war and persecution and struggle was a reality of life. These believers needed to hear that in the midst there was ability and reason for rejoicing and prayer and thanksgiving. They needed to hear that there was a reason to trust the prophecies of renewal and resurrection. They needed to know that Jesus would return to bring the fulfillment of His Kingdom, yet they also needed to know that His coming might not be next Thursday as they had penciled onto their calendars.

And, we need to know that as well. For Sheila, the fulfillment came last Saturday. For you and I, it might come tomorrow or next Thursday or in 10, 15, 25, or 50 years. Between now and then, life will suck at times. Yet, rest in hope and assurance that even in those moments where life is at its ugliest, the Messiah stands by. Ready, not to airlift us out of the problem, but rather to parachute in–Emmanuel. God with us. In the midst. In the in-between.

So, to my dear friends at YWAM-Colorado Springs, I know that life is hard right now. Yet, I also know that life will get better and then hard again. I know that even in the midst, Emmanuel will step in. Not to remove us from the problems and pain and grief, but rather to walk alongside us through it.

I know that the God who called you, and Sheila, is faithful and He can be trusted to make it so.

Rest in Peace and Joy, Sheila. I enjoyed our brief conversations while I watered those plants that were too high up for you to reach. I loved watching you talk to our children. Enjoy the Kingdom!!

 

#Advent14 — God, Do It Again!

A reading from the Psalms.

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations—”God was wonderful to them!” God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.

And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

Psalm 126 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Exiles. Those for whom home is not where they are, but a place they most desperately want to be. Somewhere between the place of their dreams and the place of their hopes.

Not quite here.

Not quite there.

As someone who has never been forcibly removed from my home, I can’t even begin to imagine the indescribable joy that must come from returning to a place that once seemed so far away. Trapped in a foreign land. Trapped under rules and regulations that make you only slightly more free than a prisoner.

When we pull in the driveway of our home in Edmond after a few months overseas, my heart skips a beat or two. My own bed. The familiarity of smells and sights and sounds. The view of pasture and neighbors–not too close–press into my eyes.

Even more sweet than that, is that first service when we are back home at Acts 2 UMC. The worship band sounds better than they ever have. The message refreshes and brings deep wells of life. And, communion–the family dinner–is the most precious moment of all.

Until last week, that was the closest that I could come to imagining the joy of the exiles returning home. And, then, I met a pregnant lady living in the basement of a church. She, and her family, are Christian refugees from the conflict in Iraq. She has a six-year old and a three-year old. She pointed to her six-year old daughter and said through the translator, “When I was pregnant with her, I had to flee my home because of war.” Then she pointed at the three-year-old son and said, “When I was pregnant with him, I had to flee my home because of war.” Then she smiled and said, “Now, I’m pregnant again. And, fleeing again.” As I fought back tears, I hugged the daughter and kissed the son on the forehead.

And then she said the most unexpected thing, “I’ve never known joy until I came here to this church. I am home.”

As I read today’s scripture, I kept thinking about this precious lady and her beautiful children. I thought about her statement. While I know that she’ sound a place of safety and peace in the midst of the conflict, I also know that she is stuck somewhere between the dream of home and reality of home. And, I wondered how much joy would be in this woman’s heart and in her family when she really does return home.

And, so we pray, for this family and the millions of other refugees around the globe. These modern day exiles. We pray that they will return home. That they will no longer be trapped between the now and the not yet. We pray for peace–not the absent of conflict–but the presence of Emmanuel–God with us.

Even in midst of the conflict, we pray that more and more of these exiles will be able to say like this dear lady, “I feel like I am home.”

Our prayer for them all resounds, “God, do it again!”

 

Advent14 — The Waiting Begins

Yesterday, in churches and homes all over the globe, a candle was lit. The first of four. The beginning of a new year in the church calendar. The beginning of Advent.

Advent. A word that simply means coming. A word that is packed full of meaning and is wrapped up in hope, joy, peace, and love. A word that brings us to that place between knowing that the Messiah has come and waiting for the Messiah to come.

It is that brief period of the church calendar where we position ourselves with an oppressed people longing for rescue. We–purposely–find ourselves between Malachi and Matthew. Wondering if things will ever be better. Knowing that for centuries “better” has been prophectically pronounced.

The King is coming!

Prophets of old have told us. Our parents have passed it on to us. The King. He is indeed coming.

At any moment now.

And, yet.

We’re a captive people. Captive in our own land. Captive in our own homes. Captive in a world that couldn’t care less that we stand in anticipation of rescue. In fact, we are captive in a world that mocks our anticipation.

And, we wait.

The Prophets once told us that this King would be called Immanuel.

Immanuel. God with us.

And, yet, we wonder if God could ever be with us. How, into this mess of a world, could God come?

Death. Some of it to disease or accident. Some at the hands of another.

Illness. Some curable. Some not.

War. Some in the name of money or resource. Some in the name of the very God we hope will come near. Some of it even considered just and right.

Hunger. Some due to famine. Some due to stinginess of those who have more than enough. Some due to neglect.

And, into this world, we wonder how God could come. And, yet, He does.

We learned over the weekend that a group of gunmen stormed a residence in Central Asian nation and opened fire on three South Africans who were there to help provide education to the children of the nation. A father and two teenaged children gunned down, and then the house burned. The mother, a doctor, was at the hospital bringing healing to the hurting–some of whom may even have been in support of the gunmen. For Warner, Jean-Pierre, and Rode, they rest tonight in the arms of loving–and near–God. For Hannelle, questions and fear and no rest. Yet, still in the arms of a loving–and near–God.

Three lives given–given so that others–strangers–might have an opportunity to a life of fullness.

One life remaining–longing for God to come near.

It is there in the tension that we long for the Messiah. We yearn for the Kingdom where lion and lamb will lie side-by-side. We hope for the place where weapons of death–guns, and knives, and drones, and tanks, and missles, and planes–are beaten into things that bring life–plows, and shovels, and hoes, and rakes.

And, we wait for God to come near.

We’re hearing confirmation of the rumors that the World Food Progamme lacks the $60+million dollars necessary to continue to provide aid for refugees who have fled the conflict in Iraq and Syria. And, so, more than one-and-a-half million people are forced to wonder from where they will receive bread and milk. Hundreds of thousands of children sit on the brink of starvation. Rumor has it that it’s not just this United Nations program that is lacking funding, but it is also many Non-Governmental Agencies–some even faith-based–that lack funding.

We are also aware that some of the food, coal, blankets, tents, clothes that should have found it’s way to these displaced peoples didn’t. Whether stolen, sold, or otherwise, the situation is dire.

And, we wait for God to come near.

And, God does indeed come near.

He comes near in the birth of a baby. In the unlikliest of places. To the unlikliest of parents. Immanuel. God with us.

And, God does indeed come near.

At the hands of everyone who has answered the call to give more than they keep. The call to go where no one else will. The call to love the unloved–and the unloveable. The call to feed the hungry. The call to clothe the naked. In every answered call, God comes near.

And, God calls us to come near, and to be near. To be near the wife and mother who mourn. And, also, to be near the gunmen and their families. To be near the millions who are without a home or a country or a meal. And, also, to be near to those who have driven them from their homes and countries and meals.

Advent.

So, yesterday, we lit a candle. A flicker of light in the darkness. A candle that will be joined by another and another and another. And, then, by the candle of the Christ-child. And, then, by your candle–and mine.

Until, the room grows bright, and we are pushed out into the world to proclaim that the King has come. And, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.

#Advent13: What’s in a Name? — Mark Foster

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings. We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us. Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

Rev. Mark Foster

Rev. Mark Foster

Today, we are excited to once again have a special guest post from Rev. Mark Foster. Pastor Mark is the Founding Pastor of Acts 2 United Methodist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. He married his wife Chantelle in August 1991. They have two sons, John Mark and Noah. Pastor Mark is led by the Spirit and is passionate about seeing people come to know Jesus. We met Pastor Mark in October of last year when we began to attend Acts 2 UMC. We are blessed to call him our Pastor, and are honored that he has written today’s guest post.

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew.

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

— Matthew 1:18-25 (The Message)

The Word of God for the people of God.

​Sometimes what you see or experience is so great, beyond description, beyond expectation, that one name simply won’t do. The baby gets two names. The first is “Jesus” – the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua which means “Jehova is salvation.” Another way of putting it is that Jesus means “The Lord saves.” Or you might even say that the angel commands Joseph to name the baby “Savior” because “He will save!” The New Revised Standard Version puts it, that Joseph being a “righteous man” which can also be translated as a “just” man had planned to dismiss her (Mary) quietly. “But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (emphasis mine).

The angel is direct. One, do not be afraid. This is the normal conversation starter between heavenly beings and mortals. We need this instruction daily. Joseph had reason to be afraid. While the Law of Moses required capital punishment in cases like these (Deuteronomy 22:23-27), by this time in Jewish history, the penalty was rarely death. Rather, it would be a severe, humiliating, public penalty. In Joseph’s circles, to be described as “righteous” meant that one did the right thing at the right time and was a follower of every detail of God’s law. Yet, the Spirit is at work with “just” Joseph so that he is already going beyond the letter of the law and acting out of love and mercy on Mary’s behalf.

​The second command from the heavenly messenger is that it is Joseph’s responsibility to name the baby. “You shall name the child, accepting him as your own and adopting him into the Davidic line as an authentic ‘son of David.’” Joseph names him Jesus. This places Jesus in line with the prophecy. Remember that this is not something that by law Joseph would have to do. The voice of God through the angel leads Joseph to name the baby Jesus. This naming reflects the great story line of Moses and Joshua where they save God’s people from Egypt and guided them into the promised land through the Red Sea and the Jordan River.

Jesus too will save HIS people from their sins. But who are Jesus’ people? One might think that it is the Jewish people, but as the plot develops in the gospels, Jesus’ people are ALL people. “For God so love the world (kosmos)” moving beyond any border, culture, race, or time! This turns out to be a point of great conflict that will ultimately lead to Jesus’ death. Jesus’ life was one of inclusion with the poor, with a Samaritan woman, with prostitutes, with tax-collectors, with lepers, and with as many other categories as the religious leaders of the time decided were “on the outs with God.” Simply put, they would say, “he eats with sinners.” When the rest of the religious leaders of the time were running from the hurting and broken of the world so as not be made unclean, Jesus was running to them. He washed them and made them clean.

Ironically, the mother of our Lord and Savior certainly would have been thought of in the category of “sinner” by the religious folks of her time. Mary was an unwed pregnant teenager who in her culture would also be an adulterer due to her status as betrothed. Interestingly, Matthew describes Joseph becoming aware of Mary’s pregnancy, yet not knowing of its divine source. This “in between time” of seeing trouble, but not yet seeing divine action, presence, or proclamation represents the hardest times of life.

​Perhaps this is why Jesus also receives a symbolic name, “Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Never again do we need to wonder, “Where is God in this?” The answer is in every place, in every time of trouble, even when we can’t see it, even when we don’t feel it, and even when we forget it; the truth of Jesus remains that he is “Emmanuel – God with us!” In our feast days of celebration, at the weddings where water turns to wine, at the graves of those we love like Lazarus, in the wilderness, in the garden, when we are on trial, betrayed, denied, beaten, whipped, bruised, alone; we find that we are never alone because everywhere, beyond the end of time, we have received the gift of Emmanuel – God with us that neither life nor death nor anything on the earth, above the earth, or beneath the earth can take away. I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is what the church claims this Christmas Eve. Tonight, light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not and cannot overcome it. Tonight, God is with us. Let the angels sing, the saints rejoice, the demons shudder, for the Lord of Life is alive and well. Jesus “God saves” is with us!

#Advent13: Guest Post – Nathan Kilbourne

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings. We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us. Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

We are thrilled that our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne, has agreed once again to write for us. Pastor Nathan and his wife Pastor Lynn are incredible pastors, people, and friends. In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Senior Pastor at Vilonia United Methodist Church in Vilonia, Arkansas. He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

Reverends Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

Reverends Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”

Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”

— Isaiah 7:10-16

The Word of God for the people of God.

Disappointed. I’m certain that is what Ahaz felt when he received the word from Isaiah regarding a child being born named Emmanuel. Ahaz was looking for a little bit more reassurance. He feared the Assyrian kingdom at his doorstep and the power it may be able wield over the Davidic Kingdom. This kingdom had already been compared to a stump by the prophet Isaiah, not a flourishing tree. Even then, a shoot growing from the stump is only assurance that the kingdom has a chance at survival. Who wants survival? Isn’t it best to be powerful? Isn’t it better to have large armies to be able to fend off enemies? A stump and shoot? A child named Emmanuel? What good is this? How does this calm fears and alleviate anxiety?

It is easy for us to overlook the significance of the promised presence of God when facing the giants in our lives. We look for miraculous signs in the midst of overshadowing pressures and problems. We seek calmed storms and straight paths; yet, the winds continue to blow and the paths are rocky. However, during this season, we are reminded that sometimes, what we need is reassurance that God is still looking out for us. Yes, though the powers of Assyrians, Herods, and the like seem to be winning a child will be born named Emmanuel, God with us.

Though we do not get exactly what we want, God is still Emmanuel, who reveals himself in ways we might not expect, for example, in a child. In looking for the miraculous, outstanding, world altering movements of God, we may miss that God just might show up in the vulnerability of a child and in the promise of that life will continue. Sometimes God simply gives us enough to sustain us in the storms and Ahaz missed the message of Isaiah. Though it seemed insignificant compared to the insurmountable evils surrounding him, Isaiah was providing a message of hope, a message that God will continue to be with his people. Isaiah provided a glimmer of light, but Ahaz missed it.

At times, just a glimmering of hope can help us weather the storms of life. As preacher Peter Gomes once remarked, “We are able to bear this present darkness because we believe in the coming dawn…a dawn in which the shadows and shades of night are seen for what they are and are not.” Even when it is only a glimmer of hope, such can be enough to bear the present darkness.

During this Christmas season, as we await again the coming of Jesus the Messiah, let us not forget that often God shows up in seemingly insignificant ways that we might easily overlook. God shows up in Bethlehem, an insignificant place, to Mary and Joseph, insignificant people, placed in a manger, an insignificant place, and brings hope. God may show up in your life in a seemingly insignificant way. Yet, God can take what is insignificant and make it significant. Pay close attention, even the crumbs which fall from the table of God are enough.

 

#Advent13: When Up is Down and Left is Right

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

Then a shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him–a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.  His delight will be in the fear of the LORD.  He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, He will not execute justice by what He hears with His ears, but He will judge the poor righteously and execute justice for the oppressed of the land.  He will strike the land with discipline from His mouth, and He will kill the wicked with a command from His lips.  Righteousness will be a belt around His waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat.  The calf, the young lion, and the fatling will be together, and a child will lead them.  The cow and the bear will graze, their young ones will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  An infant will play beside the cobra’s pit, and a toddler will put his hand into a snake’s den.  None will harm or destroy another on My entire holy mouton, for the land will be as full of the knowledge of the LORD as the sea is filled with water.

— Isaiah 11:1-9 (HCSB)

The Word of God for the people of God.

Whoa.  Did you read that?  Seriously, don’t run through the text today.  Go back and read it again.  Slowly.

And, one more time.

Here is Isaiah, writing to a people who are about to head to exile.  All that is left of the glorious kingdom of David is compared to a stump.  What was one a glorious oak or linden or pine is now just a stump.

Yet, here Isaiah gives the people a picture of life after exile.  He gives hope.  A Messiah is coming.  He will set things right.  He will begin as a sprout out of a stump, and will grow.  He will grow into the King of new Kingdom.

A Kingdom where what’s up becomes down and what’s left becomes right.

A Kingdom where the last become first.

A Kingdom where men sell everything they have to buy a field with a treasure buried in it.

A Kingdom where a minuscule bit of faith alters the course of history.

Isaiah paints for us a picture of paradise.  A picture of a place where lions and lambs play together.  A place where cows and bears run together.

A place where justice—God’s definition, not ours—is the rule of the land.

A place where the poor aren’t left in (or pushed deeper into) their poverty.

A place where the oppressed are set free.

A place where we judge one another through the lens of what the Father says about them.

A place where we hear not the latest gossip related to people, rather we hear the Father singing over them.

A place where what is missing is found and what is broken is repaired.

This is the Kingdom.

And, it is both now and not yet.

See, when the King—the Messiah, Immanuel, Jesus—comes into our life things change.  We move into a new Kingdom.  We act differently.  We treat everyone (whether they are in the Kingdom or not) with honor.  We seek to serve rather than be served.  We ensure that needs are shared and met.  We don’t wait for people to help themselves before we ask to help them.  We make the ground level for everyone.

We seek peace.

Shalom.

Nothing missing and nothing broken.

That’s The Way of the Kingdom.

That’s The Way of the King.

As we make our way through Advent, let’s seek to live differently.  Let’s seek to walk out The Way of the Kingdom.

Some thoughts on John 1

The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.

There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”

We all live off his generous bounty, gift after gift after gift. We got the basics from Moses, and then this exuberant giving and receiving, This endless knowing and understanding— all this came through Jesus, the Messiah. No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse. This one-of-a-kind God-Expression, who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made him plain as day.

–John 1:1-18 MSG

This is one of my favorite passages of scripture (It’s been on this blog a number of times). During the month of October and November of 2012, I spent about six weeks just hanging out in it. In that time of study, I came across this John Michael Talbot quote:

When Jesus revealed the new Word to the world, He did not write a letter or a book.  He simply lived it.  He is the Word.  He is Word when He speaks and Word when He is silent, when He is active and when He is still.

Since coming across that quote, when I read this passage I do so through that lens–the lens of Incarnation.

John Michael Talbot on John 1

John Michael Talbot on John 1

John uses an outline for His Gospel that is reminiscent to the outline that Paul uses in the book of Ephesians. He starts with this epic cosmic story. Painting for the reader the idea that God is bigger than anything else. Yet, in His bigness is willing to send His Son to be Incarnate.

John, for all practical purposes, presents the reader with a summation of Biblical Worldview. All things proceed from God, he surmises. And, in light of that, we, like Christ, must live Incarnationally.

John also paints for us an image of the Kingdom of God. He uses the idea from the Greek of cosmos and chaos. Cosmos implying an orderly order–not just order, but an orderly order. Yet, where the Greeks believed these things to live in some sort of harmonic accord, John shows that God’s design is that even in the midst of chaos and orderly order can come forth. And, that, is the Kingdom.

Between John 1:1 and John 1:14, John presents the reader with two paradoxes. In Verse 1 the Word WAS God, yet, in verse 14, the Word BECAME flesh. Second, in verse 1, the Word was WITH God, yet, in verse 14, the word lived AMONG us. God incarnate.

Consider, 2 Chronicles 6:18-21 (The Message):

Can it be that God will actually move into our neighborhood? Why, the cosmos itself isn’t large enough to give you breathing room, let alone this Temple I’ve built. Even so, I’m bold to ask: Pay attention to these my prayers, both intercessory and personal, O God, my God. Listen to my prayers, energetic and devout, that I’m setting before you right now. Keep your eyes open to this Temple day and night, this place you promised to dignify with your Name. And listen to the prayers that I pray in this place. And listen to your people Israel when they pray at this place. Listen from your home in heaven and when you hear, forgive.

He moved into our neighborhood.

Good.

Bad.

Safe.

Unsafe.

Clean.

Dirty.

He came to where we are, and dwelt among us to show us the Glory of God–to make His name great among the nations!

Shekhinah.

Emmanuel.

Comforter has come.

God’s glory in our neighborhood.

Dwelling in our messiness.

Bring orderly order out of our chaos.

Merry Christmas

We pause a moment this morning to wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Here's the telling of the Christmas story from our favorite children's book: The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you have kids, or if your don't, then this book is a must-have.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!!!

Emmanuel has come!

You can purchase The Jesus Storybook Bible through our affiliate link to ChristianBook.com below.

708257: The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name
By Sally Lloyd-Jones / Zonderkidz

Every story whispers his name.

A Bible like no other, The Jesus Storybook Bible invites children to join in the greatest of all adventures, to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the center of God's great story of salvation–and at the center of their own story too!

The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the story beneath all the stories in the Bible. At the center of all is a baby, the child upon whom everything will depend. From Noah, to Moses, to the great King David–every story points to him. He is the missing piece to the puzzle–the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, as the story unfolds, children will pick up the clues and piece together the puzzle.

The Jesus Storybook Bible makes an excellent gift at Christmas, when we all remember that he is the puzzle piece that makes all the other pieces in our lives fit.

Recommended for ages 4 to 8.

 

Standing At The Manger

Our waiting is nearly over. Our four week march is nearly at its end. We find ourselves only a few short hours from the manger.

Angel choirs are in final dress rehearsals.

Shepherds are waiting in the wings.

Rooms are filled in Bethlehem.

And a stable–full of animals–awaits a King.

Emmanuel is quite nearly with us.

In just a few hours, we will know once and for all that Messiah has come. Just as prophets and priests have foretold for centuries. The proclamation will ring out from that angel choir to those shepherds–the least of these–that in Bethlehem–that most unlikely of places–a Messiah has come.

And, He is named Emmanuel.

God is with us.

On this night before the dawn, we stand at the edge of a new beginning. As we stand here, we think of the many who have been waiting for this moment. Preparing all their lives for this moment.

And, our minds turn to those who most need Emmanuel in this moment.

We think of spouses and children who for the first time will not have that significant other or beloved parent to stand in this place with them.

We think of parents whose children rest on a precipice of their own–lingering somewhere between heaven and earth. Somewhere between the now and the not yet. Hovering silently in the hand of a Creator who loves as only a Father can.

We think of parents who have in this very season of Advent buried their children. Children killed in wars, or in senseless tragedies. And, we think of children who have buried their parents.

We think of families who for one reason or another must be apart from one another on this evening.

We think of those huddling in corners of homes–as such as they might be–in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Not knowing if morning will bring the dawn of a new day.

We think of those in the darkest of dark lands–North Korea–who have never known anything other than longing.

And, yet, somehow–together–we all stand at the edge of a manger and gaze in longingly.

For, it is this night of nights that will change everything.

Messiah will come.

Emmanuel will be reality.

And, as we stand here, we know that on the other end of the story stands a cross. And, further beyond, an empty tomb.

And, there in that quiet manger will lie the Embodiment of that which we’ve thought about as we waited through these four candle-lengths of Advent: Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.

It is only the cross–and the empty tomb beyond it–that changes the despair of separation, sickness, fear, hatred, sadness, and confusion.

Even at Advent–and its culmination that we experience tonight–we know that we are people who hope. We know that we are people at peace. We know that we are people filled with joy. We know that we are people who love.

Because, we are Easter People.

And, this is the tension in which we live. We are people who pause to wait quietly for Emmanuel all the while knowing that not only will Emmanuel come, but that He has indeed already come–and will come again. And in this tension, we struggle to understand–so many un-understandable things–while we lean back on the promise that as Easter people we live not only from Christmas to Easter, but we live all the year round with the knowledge of faith’s great mystery–Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ lives again.

Mary and the Christ Child -- AyaSofya, İstanbul

Mary and the Christ Child -- AyaSofya, İstanbul

So, we pause–in the midst of our struggles and lack of understanding–to breathe deep in the presence of a Baby that will change everything. We bow silently at the side of a manger–a roughly hewn stone–and here we lay at the feet of this Child all of our hopes, dreams, fears and needs. And, at this manger, we know that all things will be made new.

Because, we are Easter People.

Christ has come.

Emmanuel.

With us now. With us then. With us forevermore.

So, breathe deep, my friends.

Light all five candles.

Listen quietly as the angels begin their proclamation.

Our waiting is over.

 

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Confident and Joyful Expectation

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

John spoke to the crowds coming to be baptized by him. He said, “You are like a nest of poisonous snakes! Who warned you to escape the coming of God’s anger? Produce fruit that shows you have turned away from your sins. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham even from these stones. The ax is already lying at the roots of the trees. All the trees that don’t produce good fruit will be cut down. They will be thrown into the fire.”

“Then what should we do?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “If you have extra clothes, you should share with those who have none. And if you have extra food, you should do the same.”

Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” John told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

John replied, “Don’t force people to give you money. Don’t bring false charges against people. Be happy with your pay.”

The people were waiting. They were expecting something. They were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ.

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But One who is more powerful than I am will come. I’m not good enough to untie the straps of his snadals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His pitchfork is in his hand to toss the straw away from his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his storeroom. But he will burn up the husks with fire that can’t be put out.”

John said many other things to warn the people. He also preached the good news to them.

— Luke 3:7-18 (NIRV)

“What should we do?”

The question of the ages. We’ve heard what you said, and now we want to know, “What should we do?”

And, then, John prepares the path for the coming Messiah. He gives them an answer that leads to a great sacrifice.

Give.

You can’t wear two coats at the same time, so give one away.

Don’t cheat people out of money.

Don’t bring false charges.

Don’t live your life for yourself.

Here’s the voice in the wilderness, the son of Zecariah–the faithful servant–preparing the path for the coming Messiah. The King is coming, he would say, and when He comes so does the Kingdom.

Proclaiming the message of the Kingdom to a people expecting–hoping–for something. Hoping for rescue.

Hope. Confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God.

Hope. Knowing that God is for you and in that knowing anticipating that God will act out of His goodness–His Character and Nature.

And, out of that place of Hope, the people wonder, “Is John the Messiah?”

That crazy man? Wearing camel skin? Gnawing on grasshoppers? Him? Messiah? Could it be?

But, John, almost reading their minds, tells them in no uncertain terms, “I’m not the Messiah. I’m not even worthy of untying His sandals.”

I wonder what the people were thinking after that. Here they are in a place of extreme hope. A place of confidently and joyfully expecting the goodness of God–the Messiah. A place of hoping that their rescue was nigh.

John, continues on with his message–the good news. The news that while he wasn’t the Messiah, He was indeed coming soon.

Here we are, two thousand years later, proclaiming that same good news. The King has come, and, with Him, He has brought Kingdom.

Yet, we live in the place of tension. We live in that same place of hope. That place between the now and the not yet. We live in confident and joyful expectation of the goodness of God.

We live in the place of hope that God is walking through the valley of the shadow of death with us. We’re not walking alone. We walk with Emmanuel. Because, we know, that God is truly with us. And, as the song says, “If our God is with us, then what can stand against us?”

 

Caleb at the Ancient Walls of Constantinople

Caleb at the Ancient Walls of Constantinople