Thursday, December 24, 2015


I read an unusual Christmas sermon about a group who tied the baby Jesus into a manger.  The Christmas pageant was being presented in a public area.  They would set the stage, go to change into their costumes; then discovered someone had taken the baby doll from the manger before the pageant began.  Their solution was to strap the baby doll into the manger.  The preacher reflected on how throughout Jesus' life people had attempted to tie or strap Jesus down.

People tried to tie Jesus down by demanding He ignore pain and suffering until after the Sabbath.  They tried to tie Jesus down by demanding He follow Jewish practices.  They tried to tie Jesus down when He reached across racial and gender lines to bring hope and healing.  They tried to tie Jesus to a cross when He refused to do things their way.  However, all of their efforts were futile.  Jesus couldn't be tied down, not even by death.

The good news of Christmas is that Jesus not only refused to be tied down; He also frees us from the things that tie us down.  Depression, failure, divorce, addiction, and bankruptcy cannot tie us down.  Hatred, jealousy, poverty, wealth, education, and illness lose their power over us.  Jesus Christ sets us free.  That Baby -- born in a stable -- is God with us.  Jesus breaks the forces that place us in bondage and condemn us to death.

No wonder the angels were singing!  The shepherds felt compelled to go and see for themselves.  They could not remain on the hillside keeping watch over their flocks.  The whole order of the universe was changed that evening.  The world could never be the same again.  God became a human being, and we were set free.

-- U. M. Bishop D. Max Whitfield, New Mexico Conference United Methodist Reporter, Dec. 20, 2002


Wednesday, December 23, 2015


But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as His very own children. And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”” (Galatians 4:4-6 NLT)

The birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life, but a new way of living it.

-- Frederick Buechner


Tuesday, December 22, 2015


“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

God became [human] that [we] might learn to live in a Godlike way.  He took residence on the earth that earth might be more like heaven.  He showed us in His own Son that flesh need not be a devilish thing, but full of grace and truth.

This historic event is the symbol of a process.  It is ever God's purpose that the Word shall be made flesh, that the physical shall be filled with His glory, that truth shall connect with life, that virtue shall get into action and conduct, that the world shall be a continual incarnation of spiritual forces in human form.  God writes His truth not in flaming letters on the sky, nor does He cast them in bronze or chisel them in marble for the guidance of the race.  He writes His truth in human life.

-- Cynthia Pearl Maus in Christ and the Fine Arts


Monday, December 21, 2015


Grief is particularly difficult at Christmas, as the best memories can be the hardest ones. But the hope of Christmas is broad enough for joy and sorrow.

The strangeness and scandal of the season get easily lost in its familiar rituals. In Christian belief, the boundless, timeless God became, in J.B. Phillips’s phrase, one of those “crawling creatures of that floating ball.” …it is the central tenet of an enduring faith. Instead of setting out a philosophy to interpret the human drama, God joined it. He became “God with us” -- a God with a face. In the process, He both shared and dignified ordinary human life, with all its delight, boredom and suffering. The Christmas story revels in this blasphemous elevation of the ordinary -- a birth in second-rate accommodations under a cloud of illegitimacy.

The story is also shadowed by sorrow. In one of the odder moments of the narrative, a random stranger at the Jerusalem Temple predicts a mother’s grief. “A sword,” Simeon tells Mary, “shall pierce through your own soul also.” As it did. As it has for many mothers and fathers who have followed.

The point of Christmas is not a sentimental optimism about the human condition or even a teaching about the will of God. It is an assertion that God came to our rescue, and holds our hand, and becomes, at the worst moments, our brokenhearted brother. It is preposterous, unless it is true. And then it would be everything.

-- Michael Gerson in The Washington Post, December 24, 2012.


Friday, December 18, 2015


"And the greatest of these is love."  (1 Corinthians 13:13 NRSV)

If we could give but one gift, the greatest would be love. The writer of Colossians urges us, "And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues" (Colossians 3:14 JBP). Consider how you see your love reflected in others. It is true that you are not responsible for whether or not the love you give is received. Perhaps you have known of or personally experienced family dysfunction and estrangement. This is usually the result of human free-will choices and decisions. There are no perfect families. What you can do is determine the way in which you express and give love, regardless of how it may be received. When you love without expectation, you are indeed a durable saint -- needing little, offering much.

-- Julie Yarbrough in Beyond the Broken Heart


Thursday, December 17, 2015


"What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:3b-5 NRSV)

What might happen to us and within us and among us if we were indeed to prepare our hearts and follow the star...?

We might begin to believe that the Light will indeed shine in the darkness and that the darkness will never overcome it. We might begin to know in our hearts that no darkness that we find ourselves in is too dark for us after all, that the One who made us will come searching for us again and again, choosing to come and be among us, choosing to share in that darkness and to burst it apart with light and life and hope.

-- Robert Benson in The Night of the Child (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 2001)


Wednesday, December 16, 2015


". . . And He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us." (Acts 17:26-27)

How far will God go to reach those whom He has called? Consider the case of Kumiko, a young Japanese woman. Her husband was transferred to a small Wisconsin town to work in management. Kumiko looked forward to the move to America because she had read once that Christians were not afraid to die. She did not know any Christians but vowed that she would ask why this was so if she ever had the chance. She was terrified of dying and wanted an answer.

Kumiko did not realize how interested God was in answering her question. Shortly after she and her husband settled in, a missionary couple from Japan retired and moved to the same little Wisconsin town. Upon learning that there were six Japanese families living in the area, the missionaries decided to start an outreach ministry at the local church.

On the first Sunday morning of the ministry, the missionary asked the class a question that stunned Kumiko. "Many of us live with fear. Are any of you afraid?" There was a nervous silence. After a moment, the missionary turned to Kumiko, unaware of her need. "How about you, Kumiko, what are you afraid of?" Kumiko gave her life to Jesus two months later. Her husband soon followed. Together they named their new child, Grace, after the church where God had gone to such great lengths to answer her questions about fear and death.

How far will God go to accomplish His purpose with you today? He brought a young Japanese wife and a retired missionary more than 10,000 miles so that a seeking heart might find Him. And He'll go farther, even to the depths of your discouragement or despair to find you. He'll go farther than you can imagine because He is closer to you than you will ever know.

-- Joni Eareckson Tada in More Precious Than Silver, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015


And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment.  How many families whose members have been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggle of life, are then reunited, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual good-will, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight, and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilized nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first days of a future state of existence, provided for the blest and happy!  How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, Christmas-time awakens!

We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle.  Many of the hearts that throbbed so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their luster in the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstance connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but yesterday.  Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!

-- Charles Dickens


Monday, December 14, 2015


Two thousand years ago God spoke through a manger, and we still experience the mystery! The Christmas story is filled with it. Mystery is not in what we see and do not understand. Mystery is in what we know deeply and cannot see.

I recall a crisp, silent night during Christmastide when my children were teenagers, and we cross-country skied in the moonlight. The sky switched on its tiny lights above us, and the moonglow lit the way. Spruce limbs drooped with icy fingers and cast crooked shadows all around us. The swoosh-swoosh of our skis startled the silence. A stream trickled beneath the ice, heeding the call of the sea. The soil hid beneath the snow, and seeds slept deep below, trusting the green of spring. Leafless aspen gazed at us from the other side of the pond, singing softly with the spruce in antiphonal chorus "Il Est Ne'": "He is born, the holy Child." We stopped, glancing back at the twin scars trailing behind us marking clearly where we'd been. But where we would go lay open before us, unmarred. We grew quiet, sensing anew that the stillness of the universe is a dance of barefoot grace with the Creator, a silence alive with cosmic joy and mystery.

Emmanuel! God is with us!

-- Marilyn Brown Oden in Manger and Mystery: An Advent Adventure (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 1999)


Friday, December 11, 2015


The angel told us to expect joy, remember? On an ordinary night, the shepherds were gathered out in the fields, minding their own business and tending their flocks. And then the angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. Can you imagine? Imagine being at work one evening only to have the glory of the Lord show up right in front of you. Wow!

Then the angel speaks: "Do not be afraid; for, behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people." (Luke 2:10) Jesus, God's own Son and our Savior, has been born in Bethlehem. Great joy! For all people. The angel knew from the very beginning: Jesus's arrival in the world brings joy. So too does His arrival in your heart and in your life. With Jesus living in you, unspeakable joy takes root. The very same joy that the angel shared with the shepherds on Christmas evening.

-- Allen R. Hunt in Nine Words


Thursday, December 10, 2015


Jesus articulated the purpose of His ministry when He said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) Another version (NEB) translates it as "life… in all its fullness."

There are two aspects to this abundant life. The first is in the sense of "eternal life." Sin causes death. Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." There is no escaping death, but Christ came to offer us, as a gift, abundant, eternal life. We simply need to reach out to God and accept the gift by believing in Christ.

The second aspect of this abundant life, or life in all its fullness, is what Dr. Howard Clinebell in Anchoring Your Well Being calls "spiritually empowered 'well being,' 'wholeness,' or 'wellness'… The fundamental purpose of the Christian life is to enable people to develop lifestyles of spiritually empowered wholeness throughout their life journeys and to help create a society in which life in all its fullness is possible for all members of the human family."

First we receive through Christ the gift of eternal, abundant life, then, in Christ we give the gift of spiritually empowered wellness to ourselves and others as we proclaim the Good News.

-- Rev. David T. Wilkinson


Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Advent is a season of preparation.  During Advent, we know that we are about to celebrate Christ's birth, which is cause for joy.  But we may also feel a little nervous, wondering if this event is more than we can handle.  This seems natural; after all, we are about to celebrate a life-changing, world-changing event.  Christ's birth is no easy thing to understand.  As we anticipate an event of such mystery and magnitude, perhaps we sense that we need some time to prepare.  Thankfully, Advent offers us this gift of time.

-- Sarah Parsons


Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Our life is full of brokenness -- broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God's faithful presence in our lives.

-- Henri Nouwen


Monday, December 7, 2015


"All right then, the Lord Himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a Child! She will give birth to a Son and will call Him Immanuel (which means 'God is with us')."  (Isaiah 7:14 NLT)

God comes to the woman who feels in exile in her own marriage, for the man who grieves the loss of life dreams.  God comes to the child who lives on the street, for the parents who struggle to feed and clothe their children. God comes to the one whose loneliness or depression intensifies every Christmas. ...

Emmanuel -- God-with-Us -- is coming to us, to meet us wherever we are -- happy or sad, joyous or grieving, God comes to stand with us, whatever our condition.  And we thank God for that promised gift of presence.

-- Beth A. Richardson in Child of the Light: Walking through Advent and Christmas  (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books, 2005) Used with permission.


Friday, December 4, 2015


"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end,…"  (Isaiah 9:6-7a NKJV)

A Nigerian woman who is a physician at a great teaching hospital in the United States came out of the crowd today to say something kind about the lecture I had just given. She introduced herself using an American name. "What's your African name?" I asked. She immediately gave it to me, several syllables long with a musical sound to it. "What does the name mean?" I wondered.

She answered, "It means 'Child who takes the anger away'."

When I inquired as to why she would have been given this name, she said, "My parents had been forbidden by their parents to marry. But they loved each other so much that they defied the family opinions and married anyway. For several years they were ostracized from both their families. Then my mother became pregnant with me. And when the grandparents held me in their arms for the first time, the walls of hostility came down. I became the one who swept the anger away. And that's the name my mother and father gave me."

It occurred to me that her name would be a suitable one for Jesus. He certainly knew how to sweep anger away.

I guess I would also like to be known as a person who sweeps anger away. Being a reconciler is pretty worthwhile personal mission. I recall Garrison Keillor once reflecting on the church of his youth: "We had a surplus of scholars and a deficit of peacemakers." That ratio needs to be reworked.

-- Gordon MacDonald in Leadership Weekly


Thursday, December 3, 2015


God's ultimate answer to suffering isn't an explanation; it's His incarnation. He isn't some distant, detached and disinterested deity; He entered our world and personally experienced our pain.

Jesus is there in the lowest places of our lives. As philosopher Peter Kreeft says: "Are you broken? He was broken, like bread, for us. Are you despised? He was despised and rejected of men. Do you cry out that you can't take any more? He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Did someone betray you? He was sold out. Are your most tender relationships broken? He loved and was rejected.

"Jesus is much closer than your closest friend. Because if you've put your trust in Him, then He is in you. And, therefore, your sufferings are His sufferings; your sorrow is His sorrow."

So when tragedy strikes, when suffering comes, when you're wrestling with pain – and when you make the choice to run into His arms, here's what you're going to discover: peace to deal with the present, courage to deal with your future and the incredible promise of eternal life in heaven.

"I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. But be courageous! I have conquered the world." (John 16:33)

-- Lee Strobel  in The Case for Christianity Answer Book


Wednesday, December 2, 2015


"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!"  (2 Corinthians 5:17 NRSV)

The primitive Christians were accustomed to speak, in a language which was older than Christianity, of being "in the Spirit" -- as though Spirit were an ethereal atmosphere surrounding the soul, and breathed in as the body breathes in the air.  Paul, too, used this expression, but he placed alongside it a parallel form of words, "in Christ" or "in Christ Jesus".  Where we find these words used we are being reminded of the intimate union with Christ which makes the Christian life an eternal life lived in the midst of time.  The deeper shade of meaning would often be conveyed to our minds if we translated the phrase "in communion with Christ". But, Paul's Christ mysticism is saved from the introverted individualism of many forms of mysticism by his insistence that communion with Christ is also communion with all who are Christ's.

-- C. Harold Dodd in The Meaning of Paul for Today


Tuesday, December 1, 2015


The approach of the Christmas season is a time when the yearly routine of life often changes. Even before Thanksgiving is past, we begin to see signs of the approaching holiday. It is interesting to remember that the term "holiday" has its origin in "holy day." A basic meaning of holy is that which is set apart; that which is different from the ordinary. Thus, a holy day or "holiday" is meant to be a time set apart for a specific remembrance or celebration...

Christmas, however, is more than a day; it is a season. The season before the day is called "Advent." This is a religious term that refers to having a season of preparation for a special, holy day. Therefore, the time prior to the actual day of Christmas has become the season that is filled with special meaning; not the least of which is the symbolism of Christmas...

Too often we look at things and fail to think about what they can mean to us. Life is full of symbols... The more we understand the symbolic meanings, the more we will be able to strengthen ourselves, and others, in the faith.

In 1906, Helen Keller was quoted in the December issue of Ladies' Home Journal as saying, "The only real blind person at Christmas is he who has not Christmas in his heart."

-- Rev. Kenneth A. Mortonson in the introduction to The Advent Instructor: Reflections on Christmas Symbolism