“For nothing is impossible with God.”
Have you ever found yourself asking, “How can this be?” And before that question is answered you ask, “Why.” The story of the birth of Jesus has us asking these very questions; certainly Mary, the mother of Jesus, probably spent the rest of her life trying to figure out why God chose her to be Jesus’ mom and how it really happened. It was easy for the angel Gabriel to tell Mary not to be afraid (Luke 1:30) but having unanswered questions can be scary. For 12 year old Mary finding herself pregnant in an unforgiving world, her questions were a matter of life and death. Yet she took a leap of incredible strength and faith as she proclaimed, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Maybe we need to leave some questions unanswered and just trust God and the amazing grace that is being shared with us in the birth of Jesus. It is ok to question God, as it is ok not to have the answers we are seeking. The miracle that we celebrate at Christmas is “God is with us” despite our questions and our uncertainties. It is hard to imagine what was going through Mary’s mind the day God visited her. Mary’s life was forever changed and ultimately our lives were transformed by the gift of salvation given because of Jesus’ birth. Maybe all we can say about how and why Jesus was born is, “My Lord and my God!”
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Advent, the season of preparation before Christmas, is a time for many of hauling out decorations, moving some furniture around and changing the look of home, church, or place of business. The change seems temporary but the season that follows is eternal. What if God’s Word was at the very heart of your preparations? What if every wreath you hung was a reminder of Jesus’ promise to be with you “always, even to the end of the age?” What if every red ribbon and red bow spoke the words of Jesus when he said, “This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” What if every Christmas tree’s evergreen branches signified the very definition of salvation shouting the affirmation of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die?” Come to think about it, maybe preparing for the coming of our salvation through Christ is not so temporary, maybe our preparations symbolize the word of God we find along the way. God’s word changes even the most minute detail of our lives and certainly of our Christmas preparations if our hearts are open to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ in the world. Our Christmas decorations are more than traditions or “just what we do” this time of year; they can represent to us and to the world God’s eternal presence. May your preparations point toward the One who with a word can transform your life and fill you with grace.
“Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.”
Giving thanks for the incredible blessings that we have received is a witness of faith and the purest form of gratitude that can be given to God, who gave us the “bounty” we have received. Have you ever thought about the gifts you have received from God? Maybe some of God’s gifts are taken for granted, like breathing, heartbeats, sunrises and sunsets, the wind, rain, and sun. Sometimes we may even take for granted the church and all her ministries that have made us, shaped us, and encouraged us. But God has called us to remember the bounty, to remember the gift of life and the lives of those around us. God invites us to celebrate and to share the amazing gifts of God. God not only gives us food, but everything and everybody who is or has been a part of our lives. I find it interesting that God even had to say “we shall celebrate” the bounty we received; it should be a natural reflex! When we celebrate with thanksgiving, we celebrate also the joy of the Lord. We celebrate the privilege of having the gifts we have received and the privilege of sharing gifts with those who are challenged by the path life has paved for them. “Give thanks with a grateful heart,” give thanks and celebrate the Lord your God. May this season of thanksgiving be for you a celebration of your calling and the gifts you have received; may it be a time of remembering and sharing of God’s gifts. In your thanksgiving may you be a blessing as you have been blessed.
“I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”
There are times when all that is left is “hope,” the affirmation that things will be ok and that the future rests solely on the promises of God. But what if we see little hope, what if we lose hope? The prophet Ezekiel looked over a “valley of dry bones” and saw nothing, no hope, no life, no possibilities. God sees what our limited vision of life fails to see; hope even in the midst of supposed hopelessness. There are no limits to God’s power yet there are times when we place limitations on God. Our journey through life is paved with hope, but the messiness of life can obscure our view of the road ahead. Often hope can only be seen through the eyes of faith, which “sees” God make something out of nothing and possibility out of impossibility. Somebody once said the question is not how to avoid the rain, but how to dance in the rain. May God offer you hope and teach you to “dance” even in the face of storms along the way. Open your heart to God and will know God’s Spirit, and truly live.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.”
Take a moment, close your eyes and remember, remember those who loved you, taught you the stories of faith. Remember those who witnessed an undying faith even in the face of incredible adversity. Remember those who God put in your path to offer grace, a kind word or presence that warmed your soul. Remember those who shared with you the joy of believing. Remember the saints of your life who now worship in the Great Church Triumphant but continue to be with you in spirit because of the cross of Jesus and the empty tomb. Those who came to your mind are part of the “great cloud of witnesses.” They may only be known to you and perhaps no history book will contain their name, yet their name is eternally written in the Book of Life and in your heart. God gave you the gift of these people, these saints, and as a result you are beyond blessed with the gift you have received from God. Perhaps the greatest gift you can give to God is to be a “saint” to someone else. Fact is, you may never know the lives you have impacted by your witness of faith, but they will know and will be beyond blessed because of you living out the joy of faith. As for the Great Cloud of Witnesses, they are alive forevermore. As the incredible hymn proclaims, “O blessed communion, fellowship divine, we feebly struggle, they in glory shine.” (“For All the Saints,” UMH 711) Thank you, Lord, for all the saints. Amen