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Archive for the ‘Church Year’ Category

Its been nearly two weeks since Resurrection Sunday, but according to the traditional church calendar, it is only the second week of a seven week Easter Season. This season is a time to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, new life, and new creation. It is no coincidence that this period on the Church calendar occurs during the time of the year where we see nature come to life.  Just this week, we have seen beautiful sunny skies, the Dogwood and Bradford pear trees bloom and the grass getting greener – and taller.

It is Spring. The cold gives way to warmth.  The ground is broken up and readied for planting. Dormant seeds come alive.
And Christ is risen. Alleluia! The Lord is Risen Indeed!

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Pharisäer und Zöllner - Fresko (F3), Basilika ...

Pharisäer und Zöllner – Fresko (F3), Basilika Ottobeuren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

Before God, we are all miserable sinners. The only difference is that some acknowledge this and plead for nothing but mercy. Others thank God that they are not the same kind of sinner as their neighbor.  The Pharisee in this story thinks that because he has not committed the obvious taboo sins of his culture, he is fine. Even more he fasts regularly and tithes on everything. All good thing things. Yet, he forgot about the one sin that leads to all others: Pride.
It was pride that caused the fall in Eden and it is pride that causes my fall and yours today. We compare ourselves with others, seeking to justify ourselves in the sight of God and men. To do this, we must paint a very bleak picture of our neighbors’ morality, and a very charming portrait of our own goodness. In highlighting our goodness and focusing on others’ failures, we become self-deluded, thinking that our sins are trivial. We begin to see no need for repentance and mercy, only “thankfulness” that we are not like those we hold in contempt.
The remedy for us is humble repentance. As Jesus said, “…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” That’s why we have the Lenten season – to humble ourselves once again so that we may be exalted with Christ as Easter.

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At our church, we are going through The Story, which provides a overview of the biblical narrative by using actual scripture portions from the NIV.  This past week we came to chapter 17, which told of the failures of the wicked Kings and the eventual fall  and destruction of Jerusalem.  Israel had fallen because it had failed to live up to its God given task of being a light unto the world. God had chosen the offspring of Abraham to be a blessing to the surrounding nations. Instead, Israel became like its neighbors, returned to idolatry, and eventually was destroyed.   Israel had misrepresented God, and God had enough.  The city of Jerusalem was crushed, the temple burnt, the people sent into exile.

Jeremiah laments the situation: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people…Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude…All who pass along the way clap their hands at you; they hiss and away their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem; Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?”  The light had been snuff out with nothing remaining except a smoldering wick.

Though Jeremiah was the weeping prophet, he found reason for hope:  “The steadfast lover of the Lord never cease; his mercies never come to an end: they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Jeremiah was confident that God would once again prove his faithfulness. And God did. Centuries later God sent the true faithful Israelite to be a blessing to all the earth, to be a light unto the world. Jesus said that now, he himself, was the light of the world, and that whoever followed him would not walk in darkness.  The light of Israel had been restored in a brighter way than ever imagined. Now, through the Messiah, God has ensured that light would no longer be trapped under that basket of self preservation that leads only to smoldering wicks.   Instead, God has determined Jesus followers would be the  light on display for all the world to see, so that he may receive glory from all the nations.    As we continue in the Epiphany season, lets remember that our task is to carry forth the light of Christ to the world around us.

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Pietro Perugino - The Adoration of the Magi (E...

Pietro Perugino – The Adoration of the Magi (Epiphany) – WGA17259 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this week following the Epiphany of our Lord, we remember the revealing of Christ to the gentiles.  It is truly good news that the Jewish Messiah would come not just for Israel, but for all nations. We are all recipients of this grace.

Those wise men who came from the east were the first non-Jews to see the Christ.  The folks in Israel had not really paid much attention to this baby who was destined to be King of the Jews. However the Magi from a far away pagan land traveled hundreds of miles under the guidance of a star to see this child.  They were so excited to see this child that Matthew records that they “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy”  when they got close to Jesus. When they came into his presence they fell down and worshiped him.

When King Herod, King of Judea,  did find out about this child, he was not happy to hear about one who had “been born King of the Jews.”  He did not worship him; he declared war on him. Attempting to eliminate any threat to his throne, he had the infant boys of Bethlehem murdered.

As the gospel of John says, “he came unto his own, and his own did not receive him.” Many in Israel did not recognize the majesty of Jesus, while many pagans from around the world came to believe in him as their Lord.  This is not to pick on the first century Jews; we too fail to see the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

Far too often, we pay little attention to the King in our own midst. We strive for control of our own lives, and often buck against any perceived threats that would undermine our own little kingdom. When we are confronted with the news that the true King is here, we must be careful not to rebel against him as Herod did. Of course, we wouldn’t go to the extremes that Herod did in trying to eliminate the threat to his position. However, even our simple ignoring of his presence is really the same as rebellion against him.  He is a kind and gentle king, but he is still King.

Rather, God wants us to gladly bring him our worship and treasure as the Magi did.  This requires time and effort –  just like the Magi’s long and hard trip across the hot desert. However, the payoff will be worth it, as Hebrews says, “he rewards those who seek him.”

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12 Days of Christmas

12 Days of Christmas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though December 25 is past, Christmastide is just getting started. This season of the church year is also known as the Twelve Days of Christmas (yes, it appears there actually was some reason to have a song called “The 12 Days of Christmas”).  These Twelve Feast Days run from Christmas to Epiphany on January 6. For more on the Twelve Days see the Wikipedia  article.

It seems as though the Twelve Days have been largely forgotten by many, including myself. At any rate, there does seem to be value in observing all twelve days of Christmas.  As I mentioned in this post, the Christian season Advent is ignored by many, and is swallowed up by Christmas of commerce.  On Christmas day we celebrate, and then its over. As Christians, we want to keep Christ in Christmas, but if we’re honest, most of us will probably admit that the events of December 25 often draw our minds to many things beside the Incarnation.  It might be helpful if we used the slower pace that usually comes after Christmas Day for continued celebration and reflection on the coming of our God in the person of Jesus Christ.

For the advertisers Christmas is over. They now begin a new marketing strategy to keep us in their stores through the cold and dark months of January and February. For the Church, Christmas is not over – its just getting started. We take this time to rejoice in the God of our salvation and to shine as lights in witness to the Joy he has brought to the World!

 

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Here is Zephaniah’s vision of “God with us”

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. – Zephaniah 3:14-15 (ESV)

Zephaniah calls for rejoicing and singing when God comes to be among his people.  The birth of our Savior is about God becoming flesh  and dwelling among us us. What does it look like when God comes? The prophet says, ” he has cleared away your enemies.”  This is more than a birthday – it is the day of God’s victory over our enemies.  Our enemies of evil and death were destroyed through the death and resurrection of our Lord.

Because our enemies have been defeated, we have no need to fear evil, for the King of Israel, the Lord, is in our midst. We our not a people to be caught up with the media driven fear mongering, for we have the Prince of Peace as our Lord.  We do not rush to our guns for our security – we remember that God is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. As the Psalmist says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

But also, “he has taken away the judgments against you.” What judgments? Earlier in the passage, the prophet rails against unfaithful Israel, calling her rebellious and defiled, “she listens to no voice, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD; she does not draw near to her God.” The prophet calls for repentance and humility or else judgement: “I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.”   When God come to be with his people, he will forgive the sins of the humble, and remove the judgment against them and will leave a contrite people that will “seek refuge in the name of the LORD.”

So sing aloud and rejoice this week, God has come and he is in our midst!

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Jesus from the Deesis Mosaic

Jesus from the Deesis Mosaic (Photo credit: jakebouma)

The tragedies that occurred last week may cause us to think that Christmas should be cancelled this year. How can we celebrate in the midst of such terror? How can we be holly and jolly when such a horrible crime has been committed against small children?  How can we open gifts on Christmas morning, when there will be so many families with unopened gifts on a day of mourning?  Well, if Christmas is simply a holly jolly time of gift grabbing and consumerism, then I say it should be cancelled.

However, the above does not describe the true nature of Christmas, at least in any Christian sense. The Christian Christmas is remembrance of Christ our King coming into the world.  In fact, Christmas is about justice.  The ancient peoples in other lands had long experienced brutality, including unjust murders of innocent children. Isaiah foretold of a Servant-King who would “bring forth justice to the nations…” He also said that this man would “not grow faint on be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth. ”  Matthew quote this Old Testament prophecy and states that Jesus fulfills it.

This Christmas we must remember that though the darkness seems all so strong, Christ is the ruler still. This is why we observe advent: to remind us of our great need for a King and Savior. Though many skeptics say such tragedies are evidence that there is no God, we must remember that the final chapter has not yet been written. To give up on God is to give up on justice. The world will not be put to rights without a right judge of the earth.

According to Jesus, children are called the greatest ones in his Kingdom, and has no words but hard words for those who dare offend them. It would be better that they be drowned in the sea than for them to face the wrath of King Jesus.   Christ has come once, he will return again to sort everything out and to execute justice.   As Zechariah says in Luke’s gospel account , “He will save us from all our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”  Those who have committed atrocities will receive their due – their suicide will not result in an eternal evasion of justice. Those who have suffered unjustly, we be made whole.

This Christmas, let us remember the birth of our Savior,  and anticipate that he will come again, rendering justice to the earth, and peace to those with whom he is pleased.

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