Mark 9:7 Just then a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and from deep in the cloud, a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love. Listen to him.” (The Message Bible)
Things happen quickly in general in the Gospel of Mark. It is the shortest of the four New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life, only 16 chapters compared with Matthew’s 28, Luke’s24 and John’s 21. But in the end of chapter 8 and the beginning of chapter 9 things really speed up. In chapter 8 Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah and then Jesus goes on to redefine what the Messiah is and what the Messiah will do. Now in chapter nine Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on a Mountain and they see him glow radiantly and talk with Moses and Elijah. While Peter babbles about building shelters for them all, the above verse takes place. They are covered by a cloud and hear the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, marked by my love. Listen to him.” If you go back and read the end of chapter eight you will find Jesus talking all about his own execution and the need for his followers to take up their own cross, the symbol of execution. They didn’t want to hear such talk and neither do we. Maybe that was one reason they needed this emphatic command to listen to Jesus. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday this Wednesday. How will you listen to Jesus this Lent?
1 Corinthians 9:23 I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! (The Message Bible)
The pew Bibles in our congregation (NIV) render this verse “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” The Message Bible is less word for word accurate than the pew Bibles but I like the nuance it highlights. We have become a world of viewers. We have hundreds of channels on our cable TVs not to mention Netflix and other streaming options. Millions upon millions sat around watching the football game last night and critiquing the commercials. Screens are everywhere, from the cellphones in our pockets to displays in the grocery check out lines. We are constantly watching others do things. We can be that way about faith. Our beliefs can become removed from us, over there, what other people are involved in. Paul wanted to be in on the action. It cost him a lot but he seemed to think it was well worth it. What does it mean to be, in the Message Bible’s terms, “in on it,” part of what God is doing in the world, in history, in and around you? Lord, give us eyes to see what you are doing and hearts that long to be in on it
1 Corinthians 8:6 For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
There are some Bible scholars who like to emphasize the differences between the authors in the New Testament. In our church we spent a lot of time in the Gospel of John starting with Easter. Now that we are in 1 Corinthians, I find that this passage above sounds an awful lot like the beginning of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (1:1-4). Yes, the Trinity and the relationship between Jesus and the Father are somewhat mysterious and hard to put into words. But when the folks in the New Testament do, they seem to have more in common than they are different. One God but, here, a Father and a Son, both involved in creation and both deserving of our worship and service. What is the God like that you worship?
1 Corinthians 7:30 Keep it simple—in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. (The Message Bible)
There is something called the K.I.S.S. theory regarding public speaking. It stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. We generally live in a culture which claims that more complex is better. We want things faster, newer, with more options. We have hundreds of connections on social media to show us pictures of their meals. Since we can do more, we are expected to do more, by employers and family and friends. But are people satisfied with the quality of their relationships? Do we find purpose and meaning in the many things that occupy us? Are we more often focused on what we need to do next rather than what we are doing at the moment? Simplifying life runs the risk of boredom perhaps. We may feel out of step with those around us. The question is, is there something that will fill the empty space? Maybe even God? How will we ever know if we don’t try?
1 Corinthians 6:13 You know the old saying, “First you eat to live, and then you live to eat”? Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body! (The Message Bible)
If you compare this verse with other versions of the New Testament you can see that the Message Bible does some interpreting in its presentation. Reading the letters in the Bible is like hearing only one side of a phone conversation. You have to fill in the other side with your imagination. There was obviously some back and forth going on between Paul and the Corinthian church. Some of them were proposing that, since the spiritual was all that mattered, you could do anything you want with your bodies, including sex in a variety of contexts and forms. Paul says that while Christianity isn’t simply a matter of following rules, God made our bodies good and so we should see our whole selves, including our bodies, as God’s gift to us to be used properly. It is plain to see by looking around you that physical things like food or drink or sex can easily become compulsions rather than pleasures. Salvation, in the Christian sense, includes learning how the things of this life can be ordered as originally intended, that is to reflect God’s glory and fulfill humans. Is there a part of your life that needs that type of saving?
Acts 19:6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
Paul ran into some men in Ephesus who knew about the baptism of John the Baptist but not beyond that. They get baptized in the name of Jesus and then the Holy Spirit comes upon them. They do what is called “speaking in tongues” and prophesying. Wikipedia says, “Speaking in tongues, also known as glossolalia, is a practice in which people utter words or speech-like sounds, often thought by believers to be languages unknown to the speaker. One definition used by linguists is the fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables that lack any readily comprehended meaning, in some cases as part of religious practice in which some believe it to be a divine language unknown to the speaker. Glossolalia is practiced in Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, as well as in other religions.” The whole point is that Jesus was the fulfillment of what John had been proclaiming and that the good news is that God meets people at their level. Paul says more about speaking in tongues in his letter to the Corinthians. It is an interesting expression of prayer and worship. But the focus is never on the expression but on God who comes in Jesus. Is there anything you focus on in your faith instead of Jesus?
Isaiah 60:1 Get out of bed, Jerusalem! Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you. (The Message Bible)
This is what the Message Bible does with what the pew Bibles in our church have as “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.” It has been many years ago now, but I can still remember how difficult it was to get back into the swing of getting up early again for school after Christmas vacation. Staying up late and sleeping the morning away seemed like the best thing back then and being roused early to return to educational activities seemed too cruel for words. As the years advance, I find my best time to be in the early morning and look forward to getting in bed at night. Most days hold a certain anticipation for what may be accomplished in those hours and it feels good to get at it. There may have been times in 2020 when you would have been happy to sleep the pandemic away; to pull the covers over your head and wait there until the world returns to normal. With the roll out of the vaccine we have hope that there is an end to all this somewhere down the road. Will you be ready when it comes? God’s people are always being called to be alert to the possibilities of what God may do. “Get out of bed! Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you.”
Isaiah 61:10 I will sing for joy in God, explode in praise from deep in my soul! (The Message Bible)
One of the things I will miss most in this Covid Christmas year will be singing Joy to the World at the end of our Christmas Eve service (congregational singing is a no-no virus spreader). Our congregation, like many, has a tradition of lighting personal candles as we sing Silent Night softly. And then, after the benediction we blow out those candles and “explode in praise” as the organ roars and the voices rise in that glorious carol. There are several choral versions available online and I am enjoying exploding in praise with them in the privacy of my home by myself. Yes, the celebration will be different this year, but what we celebrate is the same as last year and the year before and millennia before that. However you explode in praise deep in your soul this year, let it rip like the sound of the angels on the first Christmas!
Isaiah 61:6 And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.
Priests have gotten a bad name lately because of the sex scandals in the Catholic church, but one of the things the Reformers made a point of is something called the priesthood of all believers. In Isaiah’s day the priests were from a specific ancestry and took turns doing the daily and special services and sacrifices in the Temple. His picture of the future is a time when all the people “will be called priests of the Lord,” that is, they will all be able to connect anyone with God. Christians believe we can all do this because it is God who reaches out to humanity in Jesus. The baby we celebrate at Christmas is the one who, through his spirit, changes our hearts and works through us to help others connect with him. Christmas is not just about what God does for us in Jesus but what God will do through us because of Jesus. How is God preparing you to be used this Christmas?
Isaiah 40:11 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” (The Message Bible)
Everybody knows the Beatles, don’t they? Even teenagers? Do you know how their public career together ended? Here is the Wikipedia version: “On 30 January 1969, the Beatles performed an unannounced concert from the rooftop of their Apple Corps headquarters at 3 Savile Row, within central London’s office and fashion district. Joined by keyboardist Billy Preston, the band played a 42-minute set before the Metropolitan Police asked them to reduce the volume. It ultimately became the final public performance of their career” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beatles%27_rooftop_concert). What a way to go out! What would you shout from a rooftop? When the Eagles won the Superbowl there was a lot of shouting and fireworks. Isaiah is telling his people that what God is doing is so exciting that they should be screaming about it at the top of their lungs! Can God really be that good, that meaningful, that thrilling? That’s what Christians have said for two millennia. As you await Christmas this year, what excites you? Is God in there somewhere?