This New Year


Though it is Saturday evening when this gets posted, it is my first post for the New Year. May this be a blessed, happy and safe New Year for you, your family, and your mission.

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It is interesting to note that all three Scripture readings for this, the first day of the New Year and the first Sunday of the New Year, are about time. It stands to reason of course that we should consider time since this is the one day when we can look back at the days past and also look forward to the days that are to come. But is today the first day of the New Year? Are we really in a position where we can look back over the past and forward to the future?

Time is and will always be a difficult thing to study, understand, and categorize. It wasn’t until Pope Gregory added the extra days to bring the calendar back in line with the seasonal change that we started celebrating January 1st as the beginning of the New Year. Until that time, April 1st was the traditional start of the New Year and this change in starting times lead to the beginning of April Fool’s Day (but that is another story and, if you will allow the pun, another time). Even today, though the Gregorian calendar is predominantly used, there are over forty calendars in use throughout the world today. (http://webexhibits.org/calendars/calendar.html)

Time is more than just a passage of time; in fact, you really cannot set a beginning or an end for time. Time is more about the passage of the seasons and the marking of events in one’s life than it is about a start and a beginning. It is the passage of time and the passage of the season that lead the Neolithic people of pre-historical England to build Stonehenge; it was the passage of time and season that lead many of the Plains Indians of the American West and Canada to build what are called “medicine wheels”, places where the passage of time throughout the year and the markings of the seasons can be recorded. It is the efforts put into building these intriguing and wonderful sites that mark mankind’s first forays into understanding who they are and why they are a part of this world. One can only imagine the patience and perseverance it took develop and build these stone monuments. But it is clear that, no matter how long it took, it was important to the people building them to study time and mark the passage of time.

It is the passage of time and the marking of the seasons in one’s life that lead the Preacher to write Ecclesiastes. (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13)

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven; a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 8)

The Preacher saw time as a passage, as a balance of the events of life. Some of these events are joyful occasions; we rejoice in the birth of a child or the marriage of two people. We rejoice in one’s accomplishments. But there are other events that are often not so joyous. We grieve at the lost of a loved one; we are saddened when times are bad. The question will always be how we are to make this balance work for us. The Preacher concludes this chapter of Ecclesiastes by noting that there is nothing that we can do that will change the balance of events as time passes. It will be God who determines the final outcome.

That is why we hear the words of Jesus calling us to task about the care we show for others. The Kingdom of Heaven may be here today but it will not be open to those who see poverty, sickness, and oppressions as a sign of the end time.

The problem is that too many people today see time only in terms of a beginning and an end, not in terms of one’s life but rather in terms of society. They read the words of the Seer (as Robin Griffith-Jones identifies the writer of the Revelation of John) in terms of a beginning and end. They hear the words and look forward to a new beginning, one in which they can escape the problems and turmoil of today’s society. People who hear the words of the Revelation see the poverty, sickness, and despair that is present in this world as a sign that things are about to end. They see themselves as not changing but these words are just that, a sign of change and hope for what is to come.

When the Book of Revelation was written to the churches of Asia Minor, the Roman Empire was exacting a terrible toll on all those who would defy the power of Rome. It was a time of hoping for the return of Christ and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.

But the time of Christ’s return was unknown and though the Seer offers a great hope for that kingdom, he also points out that God is now and forever, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. In making a reference to the eternal nature of God, the Seer told \his readers not to wait for the return of Christ on this earth. In the opening verse of this passage from Revelation, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” John offers not a second beginning but a freshness, a fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah 65: 17, Isaiah 66: 22, and 2 Peter 3: 13

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65: 17)

“For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before me,” says the Lord, “so shall your descendants your name remain.” (Isaiah 66: 22)

“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”(2 Peter 3: 13)

But how is the hope that to be fulfilled? How do we deal with the lack of meaning that the Preacher gives to this existence on earth? Shall we hear the words of the Seer and see this time as the end of all time, with no hope for who we are in life’s passage? We look around us and see countless examples of problems for which we feel there is no solution. Unlike those in the Gospel reading who asked who were the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, sick or in prison, we know who they are. Yet many times, we like they, walk right by.

But we hear Jesus’ words that the Kingdom of Heaven is upon us right now, if we would look around us. It is just that we cannot act as if this is the end; rather, we must act as if this were the beginning. We must act and respond to the challenge that Jesus lays before us.

The foundation of the Methodist Church was and will always be in how we treat others less fortunate than us. Granted that salvation only comes to those who accept Christ in their hearts but coming to know Christ is very difficult when you are hungry, when you are sick, or when you are in prison, be it one with walls of stone or one which entraps your soul. John Wesley knew that for the world to be saved, concern for the poor, the weak, and the helpless had to be more than just words said on a Sunday. There had to be action on Monday.

But if we try to take on the task of solving all the world’s problems by ourselves, we will be like the Preacher seeing that after everything was tried how futile our efforts were. But the Preacher also pointed out that God put eternity in our hearts so as to give us a sense that what was around us is not all there is too life. If we allow God to be a part of our lives each day, then the moments of our lives can be transformed into something beautiful and with meaning.

As we end this year and get ready to begin the new one, it is important that we see what is before us, not in terms of what the world puts before us, but rather in what Christ shows us. Christ shows us that the opportunities to let the world know of His presence are in our actions.

The call this day is a simple one. For those in despair and exclusion, Christ offers the acceptance that the world denies you, the dignity denied by the world, and the spiritual guidance and community that are a foretaste of life in the Kingdom of God.

And for those who have come to know Christ as their personal Savior, there is also a call, “I called you from the world to fashion for myself a people who knew my grace and were formed by love. But now the hour has come for you to see the signs of a New Hope that are being given to my people in this world. The hour has come to join Me in the midst of the struggle to interpret that hope, struggling to keep it free, and helping people to know me as their Lord and Savior in the midst of the events of their daily life.”

So This Is Christmas


My thoughts for this Christmas. May the Peace of the Season be with your family and you throughout the season and the coming days.

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So this is Christmas? (“Happy Christmas (War is Over) by John Lennon)

So this is Christmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas

I hope you have fun

The near and the dear ones

The old and the young

{Refrain}

A very merry Christmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear

And so this is Christmas War is over

For weak and for strong If you want it

For rich and the poor ones War is over

The road is so long Now

And so happy Christmas War is over

For black and for white If you want it

For yellow and red ones War is over

Let’s stop all the fight Now

{Refrain}

And so this is Christmas War is over

And what have we done If you want it

Another year over War is over

And a new one just begun Now

And so happy Christmas War is over

I hope you have fun If you want it

The near and the dear one War is over

The old and the young Now

{Refrain}

War is over if you want it

War is over now

Do they know it’s Christmas? (“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure)

It’s Christmastime,

there’s no need to be afraid

At Christmastime,

we let in light and we banish shade

And in our world of plenty

we can spread a smile of joy

Throw your arms around the world

at Christmastime

But say a prayer,

pray for the other ones

At Christmastime it’s hard,

but when you’re having fun

There’s a world outside your window,

and it’s a world of dread and fear

Where the only water flowing

is the bitter sting of tears

And the Christmas bells that ring there

are the clanging chimes of doom

Well tonight thank God it’s them

instead of you

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime

The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life (Ooh)

Where nothing ever grows

No rain or rivers flow

Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?

Here’s to you raise a glass for everyone

Here’s to them underneath that burning sun

Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?

Feed the world

Feed the world

Feed the world

Let them know it’s Christmastime again

Feed the world

Let them know it’s Christmastime again

As I was thinking about this piece, I first thought of John Lennon’s Christmas song, “So This Is Christmas?” But I was reminded of another Christmas song that doesn’t get a lot of air play at this time of year. It was 1984 and there was a major famine in Ethiopia. Bob Geldof had heard about famine through a report on the BBC and decided to bring some of his musician friends and contacts together in order to raise funds for the famine relief. Unfortunately I couldn’t find out when or why John Lennon wrote his Christmas song.

But it is interesting, don’t you think, that we will constantly play John Lennon’s song, even with it’s anti-war overtones at the end, but we very seldom hear reminders that there are people in this world where Christmas is not a day of rejoicing or giving but rather just another day in which the struggle to get to the next day takes all your resources, all your time, and all your efforts.

What is Christmas supposed to be? Is it the culmination of four weeks of preparation and anticipation that is over on December 26th? Or is it the beginning of a new life for each one of us, a life filled with hope and promise?

The predominant theme each year at this time is not the birth of Christ and the coming salvation of mankind but rather the question as to whether or not businesses will make enough money in order to finish the year in a financially viable position. The birth of the Christ Child and the beginning of hope and promise for all mankind is almost an afterthought. Even the biggest churches in this country seem to think that having church services on Christmas Day is too much of a burden on their members, just because it happens to be a Sunday. Have we relegated Christ to the back of the room? Have we forgotten just why it was that Christ was born and why Christ came to us?

We spend all our time as if Christmas were the end of the season, the end of the year. When Christmas is over, we take down the tree, we put away the ornaments and the manager and we plan for the end of the year party. We seem to think that Christmas is the end, not the beginning.

But in the Gospel reading from John for today (John 1: 1 – 14) we are told that Christ was a part of this world from the beginning. So it is that we should see this day not as an end to the time but a beginning of time. John the Baptist was sent, not as a harbinger of the end time but rather as the prophet of the new. Those that come to know Christ will find a new world before them.

As the writer of Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 1: 1 – 4), God sent his prophets to tell us of the days when Christ would be among us. Are not these those times? Why is it that so many people want these to be the end times, the times when the world comes to an end? A child is born in Bethlehem; this child will bring goodness to the world, light in the darkness, and this child will bring righteousness and justice for all. These do not sound like the end times to me; they sound more like a beginning.

Did not the shepherds leave the manger that night to tell others of the joy and hope that was present that night? Did not the three wise men return home differently than they came? Are not these signs of a new beginning? Are not these the signs that we should begin anew?

Like the prophet Isaiah, we should celebrate this day. We should break forth into singing for even among the dreariness that marks our days, we have the sign that God has comforted His people. (Isaiah 52: 7 - 10)

Yes, this is Christmas and we should celebrate this day as the new beginning that it represents. We should open our days and allow all mankind to be a part of this wonderful and glorious day. Like the shepherds who came to the manger the night before, we should take the message of the birth of Christ, once in a stable but now in our hearts, out into the world. There are those out there who will not get to rejoice in this day, not because they do not know but because the world has made it impossible for them to do so. When we leave church this morning, we take with us the light of Christ in our hearts. Let us take this light out into the world so that others will also know that there is joy and hope and peace in this world. Let us take the light of Christ out into the world so that everyone does know that this truly is Christmas and Christ is born.

What Child Is This?


Here are my thoughts for this, the 4th Sunday in Advent. And yes, I will post something for Christmas Day.
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What Child Is This?

(United Methodist Hymnal #219; Text: William c. Dix, 1837 – 1898; Music: 16th Century English Melody; Tune: Greensleeves; Meter: 87.87 with refrain)

1.What child is this who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?

Refrain:This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.

2.Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christians, fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.

(Refrain)

3.So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh, come, peasant, king, to own him; the King of kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone him.

(Refrain)

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The carolers of England asked how it was that the Christ child could be lying in the manger instead of a palace.God asks David how it is that he, David, has a palatial estate while He, God, still resides in a tent outside the city. (2 Samuel 7: 1 – 11, 16)  Even today, we worship the feeling of richness and power more than we do the meaning of this season.

It seems like each year, when the Advent season begins, we begin discussing not how this will be the season of hope and joy and peace but rather how this will be a the season of economic recovery and business survival.We look more to the palaces of the rich and powerful than we do to the slums and barrios of our country and the world around us.Could there be any more irony in Congress working on a budget that short changes the poor at a time when the Savior is born?

It is only right that we would rather look at the rich, the powerful, those that have it all.It is a much better picture than to see the hungry, the homeless, the powerless, those whom we deem worse off than we.We want to move up in the world, not bring the world with us. We cling to what we know, accepting that we will never reach the pinnacles of power that seem to mean so much today.

We don’t see how we can do anything, for we have nothing and those who seemingly have less are incapable of helping us gain what others have.We are incapable of seeing how it is that God has picked us as the foundation of His Kingdom.We are mortal, we are fickle and unfaithful, and we are easily distracted.It is not possible that we will be the ones who see the completion of God’s Kingdom.

As long as we see God’s Kingdom in terms of buildings and power, we will never be able to hear God calling to us. Even Mary did not, at first, understand this.She wondered why, she a maid, would be the mother of the Christ child. (Luke 1: 26 – 38)

But she listened to God and she was able to sing in terms that magnified the Lord. (Luke 1: 47 – 55) The challenge for us is not to ignore the voice of God calling to us in this hectic time of the year.The challenge for us is not to trust in our status, our wealth, or power.The challenge for us is to open our hearts and hear the voice of God calling to us. As Mary said in her song, God’s kingdom does not favor the rich and powerful.Rather He lifts up the humble; He will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away.

Paul echoes this comment in his letter to the Romans.He tells us that this mystery of faith is now open to us all, not just a select few. (Romans 16: 25 – 27)  So it should not be a surprise that a young woman from a small town was chosen to be the mother of Christ.It should not be surprising then that we are the ones, not the rich and powerful or those who live in palatial mansions or fancy apartments, who hear God’s call today.

God will keep calling and those who are not caught up in the moment will be the ones who hear that call.It will be people like Hannah, the young David, and the innocent Mary who will hear and believe that the Word of God will come true.

Yes, we have more important things to do and we have places that we must be.We do not have time to answer the call and we will not see the child born in a stable.But maybe we will stop for a moment when we hear the carolers ask “what child is this?”And then we will see the young child and let Christ into our lives.As we open our hearts to Christ, we find ourselves saying, “Here I am, a servant of the Lord.”

The call goes out to the world.Will you respond as did Isaiah?

United Methodist Hymnal #593 – “Here I Am”

Do You Hear What I Hear?


Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday in Advent.

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From the standpoint of being a professing Christian and a chemist/chemical educator, I have observed some troubling things over the past few weeks. It all has to do with the issue of “intelligent design”, its inclusion or exclusion in the science classroom and the role of religion in our daily lives.

What bothers me is not the issue of this presumed “new” scientific theory. First, this is not a new theory but rather an attempt to restate an old idea (i.e., creationism) in terms that should be acceptable to both the lay public and the scientific community. If you will allow me the latitude of using Biblical references in a scientific discussion, you cannot pour new wine into old wineskins.

Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9: 17)

It would be one thing if “intelligent design” were a new theory; then it could be debated on the public stage as its supporters would like. But it is not a new theory and merely an attempt to get around the legal problems those creationist theories encountered in the 1980’s.

Second, it is not, in my mind, a credible scientific theory. You cannot simply say that because something observed is too complex to be explained with present knowledge, there must be an “intelligent design’ involved. That is taking the easy way out and that is not the way of science. The history of science has shown repeatedly that when explanations of observed phenomena become extremely complex it is time for a restatement of the theory. This occurred with the change from a geocentric view of the solar system to a heliocentric view; it occurred with the demise of phlogiston and the discovery of oxygen; it occurred when the caloric theory of heat was determined to be incorrect. If certain biological explanations cannot be explained with the knowledge that we have at the present, it simply means that we need to do more research and expand what we are looking for, not simply write off the problem as being too complex or complicated for modern day explanations. We are never going to fully explain what evolution is or the mechanisms by which it operates if we don’t keep looking for the answers. In the long run, adoption of theories such as “intelligent design” will stifle scientific research and push us backwards in terms of progress, rather than forward.

It seems to me that we have forgotten that many, many years ago we were nothing more than just another animal wandering this planet. But, at some point in our past, our lives changed. Perhaps it was like the opening science in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” where an unseen and highly intelligent race modify the conditions of the earth and changed early apes into creatures that eventually become man.

Or it may have been something entirely different. At this point, it is hard to tell what happened. But the result of this change so many years ago was that mankind became a questioning, exploring sentient being that wondered why things happened.

Some of the questions that we began asking were about the world around us. Mankind began to seek answers about the regularities that were discovered in this world. It became natural for us to even ask why these things happened. And when we asked these latter questions, we began to have a sense of gods in our lives.

It became obvious to these early people that there were gods responsible for the seasons, gods responsible for the growth of plants and so on. Mankind began to give credit to gods for everything good and to blame the gods for all the evil and bad that occurred in the world. Then God chose Abram and life changed.

Genesis, despite what others may say, is not about the earth and its development; it is about us and who we are. It is about our discovery of who God is and what He means to us.

But even today we still persist in believing that there are other gods, gods who send hurricanes to destroy cities where sin allegedly runs rampant or tornados to wipe towns off the map because they choose the right to seek free will instead of blindly following a rigid set of beliefs. And that is what all these debates about religion and life, be they about science, sexuality, or politics, have been about today. These debates are focused more on the laws we create or seek in order to create order in our lives rather than our desire to honor God in our lives.

We find it necessary and appropriate to have laws in our lives. We are afraid that if we do not have laws, there will be no order. And the one thing that mankind has always desired is order. As the world has grown more and more complex and complicated, as discoveries add more and more knowledge to our lives, we seek more and more order. It seems that life has grown beyond our capability to understand; so we create laws to help us to understand.

But as we create more and more laws, we begin to contradict ourselves. The very problem with society in Jesus’ time was that there were so many laws, it was impossible for anyone to find the right way to salvation. Remember that the Pharisees objected to Christ healing on the Sabbath because it involved working on the Sabbath; it was okay and proper to heal them any other time, but not on the Sabbath, for the Sabbath should be kept Holy.

A Crippled Woman Healed on the Sabbath (Luke 13: 10 – 17)

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

But which law takes precedence in one’s life? The Pharisees and authorities would have the law upheld, even if it means that someone is healed from a crippling disease. But Jesus points out that care for the sick is more important that a strict observance of the law. The authorities who complain ignored the liberation from pain that the woman enjoyed. All they saw was a violation of the law. There is no indication that they saw the Power of God at work in their presence. Jesus rebukes them for they were not willing to change; they were not willing to repent. It should be noted that healing on the Sabbath was acceptable, when it came to a farmer’s animals. So why should it not be allowed for the owners of the animals? This was the basis for Jesus’ rebuke.

The summary of this paragraph by Luke is that Jesus’ opponents were put to shame in front of the people. The passage ends by noting that we must make a choice about Jesus. Shall we side with the leaders who hold to a strict interpretation of the law and ignore the power of God? Or shall we side with Jesus with the exercise of power and compassion?

We find evidence in our searches that the earth is not the center of the Solar System, despite statements in the Bible that suggest otherwise. Those who speak out in favor of the new system are considered heretics and treated accordingly. Even today, the debate is on whether the Bible is a collection of laws which must be obeyed without question or a guide for the way we should live. Too many people see the Bible as the law rather than the spirit; it leads to preferring victory over repentance; hatred over love, vengeance over reconciliation.

The rise of fundamentalism in today’s society is because we look for simple answers and fundamentalism gives such answers. But the questions being asked in today’s society are far from simple. They require understanding and exploration.

The problem for me with a fundamentalist approach to Christianity is that it does not allow for me to expand my knowledge of God and Christ. It seems to me that the basic premise of a fundamentalist approach is that these are the truths and they do not change and they cannot be challenged. I have come to believe that the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time would feel right at home in a fundamentalist church today. Everything is cut and dried, fixed and unchanging; there is no room for change or independent thought. We know that hurricanes are not the wrath of any god but the result of atmospheric conditions. We know that earthquakes, no matter how frightening they may be, are not the results of a god lashing out at an unrepentant world but a shift in plates of stone floating on a layer of molten rock.

Fundamentalism sees hunger, sickness, and oppression as a sign of sin. We should see such signs as a call from God to respond. It was this attitude that Jesus fought against; it is what we are faced with today. Does not Isaiah say that the Messiah will come to proclaim liberty to the captives, release the prisoners and bring hope to the brokenhearted? (Isaiah 61: 2)  Does not God say that He loves justice and hates wrongdoing? Shall we not be rewarded when we do God’s work, not stop people from coming to God?

In a letter to his brother, Vincent Van Gogh wrote

The Jesuitism of clergymen and devout ladies no longer have any hold on me now. You see, for me that God of the clergy is as dead as a doornail. But does that make me an atheist? Clergymen consider me one – so be it – but you see, I love, and how could I feel love if I were not alive myself, or if others were not alive; and if we are alive there is something wondrous about it. Now call that God or human nature or whatever you like, but there is a certain something I cannot define systematically, although it is very much alive and real, and you see, for me that something is God or as good as God… (From a letter by Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, December 21, 1881 – printed in the Daily Dig for 8 September 2005.)

We seek God but we will not be able to find Him if we get trapped in simple explanations. We cannot see God in the world if we are blind to the problems of the world. Just as John the Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness, calling on the people to repent of their sins and prepare for the coming of the Messiah, so too are the needs of the people a voice crying out in the wilderness warning us of God’s coming.

Shall we stand idly by and let the voices go unheeded? Shall we wonder why the world is the way it is when God was calling upon us to fix the problems of the world? Did not Paul tell us to test everything, to hold fast to that which was good but abstain from evil? (1 Thessalonians 6: 16 – 24)  How are we to do this if we limit our knowledge of what is good and what is bad?

Now this is not a statement that says we can go and do whatever we want, so as to learn what is good and evil. We have been shown what is good; we have been shown what is evil. We are challenged to do that which is good, help the needy, heal the sick, feed the hungry and fight oppression and injustice.

We live in a world in which simple answers are sought. If life were simple and fixed, simple answers would work. But life is neither simple nor fixed; so our answers can never be fixed or simple. Jesus told us that He did not come to abolish the law or ignore the prophets but rather as a fulfillment of the law.

If we see Jesus as solely the law, then we see Christianity without caring, without understanding. We cannot live in a world that neither cares nor understands. We need to seek both aspects of life in our world.

John the Baptist was the voice crying out in the wilderness, calling for us to repent of our ways and prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Today, the voice of the wilderness is the voice of the sick, the hungry, the homeless, and the oppressed calling again for the Messiah to appear. We would rather hear the cry of the Christ child lying in the manger in Bethlehem because we think that it will quiet those other voices we hear. A child is simple and life needs to be simple. Maybe this child will offer us the simple answers we so desperately seek.

But in a few months, we will hear the words of Jesus calling upon us to hear the voices of the sick, the needy, the hungry, and the oppressed. Try as we might we cannot silence the other voices that cry out.

As we prepare this Sunday for the coming of Christ, as the Child born in Bethlehem, let us listen carefully to the voice crying out in the wilderness, challenging us to be God’s messenger in today’s society. Let us hear the prophet call that will tell us that though He is born a King, He will be a servant so that we may enjoy the victory of His Kingdom. Hear the voice of the prophet; hear the voice of the Baptist; and last, hear the voice of Christ calling you today. Do you hear?

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Said the night wind to the little lamb,

“Do you see what I see?

Way up in the sky, little lamb,

do you see what I see?

A star, a star, dancing in the night

with a tail as big as a kite,

with a tail as big as a kite.”

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,

“Do you hear what I hear?

Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,

do you hear what I hear?

A song, a song high above the trees

with a voice as big as the sea,

with a voice as big as the sea.”

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,

“Do you know what I know?

In your palace warm, mighty king,

do you know what I know?

A Child, a Child shivers in the cold–

Let us bring him silver and gold,

Let us bring him silver and gold.”

Said the king to the people everywhere,

“Listen to what I say!

Pray for peace, people, everywhere,

listen to what I say!

The Child, the Child sleeping in the night

He will bring us goodness and light,

He will bring us goodness and light.”

Open For Business?


If it was not already evident, you should know that I am not a fan of megachurches or their philosophical approach to Christianity (“theology-lite”). The article in today’s New York Times is shocking and frightening, but expectable. There have been some pretty funny things posted on a variety of sites lately but this does not appear to be a joke.

At least eight of this country’s megachurches in this country, including the flagship Willow Creek, will close their doors on Sunday morning, December 25th, Christmas Day. Willow Creek will provide a DVD for that it produced that features a “heartwarming contemporary Christmas tale”. New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has a streaming video of their services and they expect that people will gather around the computer on Sunday morning to watch the services with their family on Sunday morning.

Granted, there are not too many years when Christmas falls on a Sunday (the last time was in 1994) but when it does, shouldn’t that be a day of really special worship? Why not bring the family and celebrate the birth of the Savior? Is not the presence of Christ what this day of the year is all about? Or shall we be like the rest of the world who some two thousand years ago didn’t even know that Christ was born in Bethlehem?

My church will be open for business as usual this coming December 25th. Will yours?

Who is coming?


Here are my thoughts for the Second Sunday in Advent

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Laurie Beth Jones starts off her book, Jesus in Blue Jeans, by describing how she came to know Christ.

Many years ago I dreamed that I was standing in a meadow. Suddenly I saw a man approaching me. As he got nearer I gasped to realize that it was Jesus in Blue Jeans. When he saw the expression on my face he said, “Why are you surprised? I came to them wearing robes because they wore robes. I come to you in blue jeans because you wear blue jeans. (Jesus in Blue Jeans (prologue), Laurie Beth Jones)

At this time of year it is important that we understand how we see Christ. On the one hand we see Christ as a newborn child, young, innocent and unprotected. It makes Advent and Christmas so much easier when we celebrate the birth of a child; it makes it so much easier if we do not have to think of John the Baptist coming to us, calling out for us to repent and prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. A newborn infant is so much easier to deal with.

But we also see and we are reminded by the Scripture readings for today that Jesus is a young man coming into our world with the express purpose of offering us the greatest gift of all, salvation. The Scriptures today also tell us that we should prepare for this coming of Christ.

But we have to be careful when we read these passages because He is not coming to save us unless we first take some steps of our own. In the Psalter reading for today, we read that God “will speak peace to his people” (Psalm 85: 8) if they turn to him. There are things that we must do in order for Christ to appear before us.

The prophet Isaiah tells us to prepare a way for the Lord. We must build that straight highway; we must fill the valleys and lay low the mountains and hilltops. These are not easy things to do. Having lived in southeast Kentucky, I was privy to one of the greatest land removal schemes ever concocted.

Running along the Kentucky – Virginia state line is Pine Mountain. Back around 1988, Highway 19 ran south from Ohio and West Virginia through Kentucky and into Virginia. When the highway got to Pine Mountain, the builders put in a series of switch-backs to get up the mountain and through Pound Gap into Virginia. During the late 1990’s, these switch-backs were removed and the highway was made straight. Literally speaking the valleys were filled and the mountain tops laid low. It was one of the greatest earth removal plans ever devised. When I moved to that area in 1998, I had a sense that I had been there before because of a trip I had made from Ohio to Florida. But I could not figure out where I had been. Then I realized that the roads that I had traveled had been replaced by the new highway, a highway without the typical switch-backs of mountain highways.

So too is the road that we must build so that Christ can come to us. We must fill in the gaps in our lives and remove the barriers that we put up that keep Christ and people from reaching us. It is not an easy task. It is a task that we often do not even want to begin.

It is so easy to build mountains and dig valleys around us. It makes it easier for us to avoid dealing with people. It makes it easier for us to ignore the problems of the world. But when we do that we also cut ourselves off from the world. Cut off from the world, we cry out in pain. But there is no one to hear our cries because we have cut ourselves off so that we would not hear others crying out in pain.

And the prophet tells us that we are like the grass of a field that will wither in time. The prophet tells us that we are like the flowers of the field whose colors will fade over time. The prophet tells us that grass and flowers are only temporary things in God’s world but God’s word lasts forever. So we are to prepare a way for the Lord, we are to go to the highest mountaintop and not cry out in pain but rather in joy, And then our God will come in all His glory.

Even today we hear the voice of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. Perhaps it is the voice of the homeless, perhaps it is the voice of the sick and needy, perhaps it is the voice of the oppressed and the forgotten, but we hear their voices. We would much rather hear the cry of a newborn infant.

We know that a newborn child will grow, especially that little child in the manger. We can wait for that child to grow up. But the voice of one in the wilderness tells us we cannot wait, for the grown-up Lord will be here any minute.

The coming of the Lord is discussed only in theological terms or as speculation at best. But Peter tells us that it is a moment in time that will catch us aware, as a thief in the night comes. And when He comes, we must be ready; when He comes, we must be aware. That is why Peter encourages us to be at peace, not just with God but with all.

We hear the voice of John the Baptist telling us to prepare; we hear the voice of Isaiah telling us to make the preparations necessary for the coming of the Lord. We hear Peter telling us that the Lord’s coming is any time. But we look for mountains to protect us; we make valleys around our lives so that no one can get to us.

We are afraid to do that which will prepare us. We don’t mind celebrating the birth of a child, for a newborn infant cannot affect our lives. But an adult, especially one who, as Peter describes, can make the heavens pass away with a loud noise and dissolve the elements in fire makes us scared.

But the prophet Isaiah also tells us that though the Lord God comes in might He will feed us as a shepherd feeds his flock; He will carry us in His bosom as a shepherd carries a lamb and He will bring us home.

So, let us prepare the way. Let us look to the coming of Christ, born a child but still a King. Let us open our hearts, fill in the valleys and tear down the mountains that keep Christ away. Then it will be our voices crying out, as prophets do, celebrating the birth of Christ.