1 Corinthians 1:30, 31 That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” (The Message Bible)
We will occasionally remember that our physical blessing, like health or homes or family, are undeserved gifts from God, but for some reason it seems harder to remember that our spiritual blessings are also in this category. To whatever extent we have faith and love and hope in our lives, these are not simply the result of our own intellects or character. There is a great deal we don’t understand about God and the way humans experience life. We are quick to take personal credit for the good and to blame God or whoever for the bad. But, as the passage says, if we have “right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start” we have much for which to be grateful. What spiritual blessings can you thank God for this week?
1 Corinthians 1:9 God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that. (The Message Bible)
There are things we should never forget. Monday is the Martin Luther King day of service. We take this day to remember all that he did to raise up people to freedom and confront injustice. Injustice is part of the human condition. We should never forget that. Even in the midst of injustice, God is faithful. Even in the midst of personal and societal pain, God will never give up on you. Never forget that. What else this week should you never forget?
Matthew 3:13, 14 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Right from the beginning Jesus is not understood and questioned by someone who might have understood and trusted. According to Luke, John and Jesus were cousins in a culture were family ties were everything. Even though John was somewhat out of the ordinary (see Matthew 3:4), he and Jesus must have know each other and shared something in whatever development of thought and development preceded the gospel narratives of those last three years before crucifixion and resurrection. But here we see confusion and questioning. And so it still is with us. With all we know, we still don’t understand enough. We honestly question. We suspect, or even assert more strongly, that things ought to be different. With all this, John played his role in the story of Jesus. With all our confusion and questions, we can too. What questions are you honestly struggling to understand? How can you live them together with Jesus this week?
Isaiah 60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”
Does anyone else find the Christmas season hectic and exhausting? Their is a great deal of preparation both sacred and secular. Christmas Eve is a grand production both at home and in church. Then, before one recovers there is New Year with celebrations and more food and whatever. If you happen to have a birthday in there too, well…. Maybe I am getting old (well, of course, I am getting old) but once the season is over it can seem like it hardly happened. So, to end it all we have a celebration of light and a verse like the one above from Isaiah to remind us that we are to focus on what God has given us. So, how has the glory of the Lord risen upon you this Advent and Christmas season?
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you[c] a sign: The virgin[d] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[e] will call him Immanuel.
Do you read footnotes? Like most people, for years I paid no attention to them. In this verse there are three (that is unusual). The first is after “you” and indicates that it is plural. English use the word “you” for one person or many, but many languages have two separate words. So the sign will be for all the people and not just Ahaz, the king. The next is after virgin” and indicates that the word could be translated as simply “young woman.” The last indicates that some texts that scholars have found and studied vary to say “son, and he or son, and they.” Matthew makes this famous by attributing it to Jesus in his gospel. But with all this attention to other words we can miss the point that whether it was in 700 BC with Isaiah or most especially in the first century with Jesus, that God is with us. Us! You and me and the guy down the street and the woman across the ocean. And so he is! Merry Christmas!
Isaiah 35:3 Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way.
Before they were bought out by a large for-profit group, a few of us would go to a local retirement home monthly to lead a short worship service. I remember so fondly the way the women (in this instance they were almost always women) of our congregation passed out hymnals and interacted with the residents that came to worship. Some of the hands of those who attended could not even hold or turn pages in the hymnals. They needed to be touched with gentleness and care by those passing out the hymnals, but those hands needed to be touched! We all have our place of weakness, some that can be seen and others well hidden. We can be the ones who deliver God’s strength to the feeble hands around us. This week, how can you do this?
Isaiah 11:6 The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid. Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them. (The Message Bible)
The painting below was done by Edward Hicks in 1826. Hicks was a local guy growing up over in Bucks County PA. It is titled The Peaceable Kingdom and is based on this verse. A devout Quaker, Hicks did 62 different versions of this theme. This verse obviously inspired him to a vision of life that was compelling and motivating. Advent is a time of waiting on what God is doing just as people waited for the coming of the messiah throughout history. But it need not be a passive waiting. It can be a time to internalize the visions in scripture and make them our own. What vision of life with God is compelling and motivating for you this Advent?
Isaiah 2:1, 2 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.
This is part of the vision Isaiah had concerning what God would do for his people and all people. It brings into perspective the uproar found in John 2:18-21- “They responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” Don’t mess with the temple because the future centers around it! But, surprise, the temple is more than the building in Jerusalem- it is also the body of the Messiah- no one saw that coming. There is a whole lot more going on in the birth of the Christmas baby than good times around the tree. How can you look at Christmas differently this year?
Luke 23:33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says a few things from the cross. He utters a prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” The two criminals being crucified with Jesus also speak and he answers one of them. When we read these in the Bible we often voice them as casual conversations, just everyday talk. But, of course, they weren’t that They were the last words of a dying man gasped out in agony. How hard it would have been to say anything in such a condition. Yet that may have made them most memorable. When people speak from their pain we tend to pay more attention and give the words greater consideration. The phrases recorded in Luke spoke of forgiveness and paradise. When you speak from your own personal pain, of what do you speak?
Luke 17:17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”
Are you willing to act on your own for God? We know next to nothing about this group of ten lepers but we do know that they were together at the time Jesus went by. We might assume that they stuck together because they were all each other had having been excluded by society because of their common affliction. But when their common thread was broken by their healing, what were they to do. Only one came back to Jesus. We don’t know where the others went but the one that went back to Jesus went alone. It is scary to go alone. To break with any community or affiliation group is a difficult thing. It is much easier, safer, and comfortable to stick with the group. But when Jesus heals you, in whatever way that may be, do you follow the others away or turn back to him? This week, how will you go against the current to return to Jesus and say thank you?