“The Christmas Story”

For those that don’t follow this blog on a regular basis, you have to know that my roots lie in the South (having been born in Virginia and lived in Alabama, Texas, and Tennessee). And as I have said on a number of occasions, when you mention places like Corinth, Rome, Mount Moriah, and Shiloh, I am more apt to think of Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee than I am places in Israel and the Mid-East.

For me, the Bible has and will always be about life today, not life two thousand years ago. So it makes sense to read a translation that is a bit more modern and tied up with archaic or out-dated language. And those two points, being Southern and having a sense that the Bible needs to mean something to me, lead me to the Cotton Patch Gospels by Clarence Jordan. If you have never read this translation, you don’t know what you are missing.

But what kind of hospitality would it be for me not to offer you a taste of this translation? So here is the Christmas Story as translated by Clarence Jordan for the Cotton Patch Gospels. (If you are even more interested, I included his translation of the story of the Good Samaritan with the message I posted back in July for the message “Who Will Be The One?”)

The Christmas Story – as translated by Clarence Jordan for the Cotton Patch Gospel, Jesus’ Doings (Luke)

“It happened in those days that a proclamation went out from President Augustus that every citizen must register. This was the first registration while Quirinius was Secretary of War. So everybody went to register, each going to their own home town. Joseph too went up from south Georgia from the city of Valdosta, to his home in north Georgia, a place named Gainesville, to register with his bride Mary, who by now was heavily pregnant. While they were there, her time came, and she gave birth to her first boy. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in an apple box. (There was no room for them at the hospital.)

Now there were some farmers in that section who were up late at night tending to their baby chicks. And a messenger from the Lord appeared to them, and evidence of the Lord was shining all about them. It nearly scared the life out of them. And the messenger said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid; for listen, I’m bringing you good news of a great joy in which all people will share. Today your deliverer was born in the city of David’s family. He is the Leader. He is the Lord. And here’s a clue for you: you will find the baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in an apple box.’ And all of a sudden there was with the messenger a crowd of angels singing God’s praises and saying, ‘Glory in the highest to God, And on Earth, peace to humankind, The object of God’s favor.’

When the messengers went away from them into the sky, the farmers said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Gainesville and see how all this the Lord has showed us has turned out.’
So they went just as fast as they could, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in an apple box. Seeing this, they related the story of what had been told them about this little fellow. The people were simply amazed as they listened to what the farmers told them. And Mary clung to all these words, turning them over and over in her memories. The farmers went back home, giving God the credit and singing praises for all they had seen and heard, exactly as it had been described to them. And when the day came for him to be christened, they named him Jesus, as he was called by the angel before he was conceived.

After they had finished carrying out the rules and regulations of the church in regard to the child, they brought him to the bishop in Atlanta to dedicate him to the Lord, just as the Scripture said: ‘Every first baby, if it’s a boy, shall be dedicated to the Lord.’ Also, they wanted to make a thank-offering — as the Scripture said — of the equivalent of ‘a couple of ducks or two fryers.

Now then, there was a man in Atlanta whose name was Simon. He was a sincere and devout man, and deeply concerned for the welfare of the world. Being a spirit-led man, he had been assured by the Holy Spirit he would not die before seeing the Lord’s Leader. Guided by the spirit, he came to the First Church. And when the parents brought in the child Jesus for the ceremonies, Simon picked him up in his arms and praised God. He said, ‘Now let your servant, Almighty Master, Slip quietly away in peace, as you’ve said. For these eyes of mine have seen your deliverance Which you have made possible for all of the people. It’s a light to illuminate the problem of races, A light to bring honor to your faithful disciples.’

And Joseph and Mary were really amazed at these things that were said about him. Simon congratulated them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Listen, this little one is put here for the downfall and uplift of many in the nation, and for a symbol of controversy — your heart, too, will be stabbed with a sword — so that the inner feelings of many hearts may be laid bare.’

Now Hannah, a lady minister, was there. She was from one of the best families in the South. She was quite old, having lived with her husband for seven years after getting married, and as a widow from then until her present age of eighty-four. She never left the church, worshiping there night and day with prayers and vigils. She came up to them at the same time and gave God’s approval, and started talking about the child to all those who were hoping for the nation’s deliverance.

And when they got through with all the church requirements, they went back to south Georgia, to their own city of Valdosta. And the little fellow grew and became strong. He was plenty smart, and God liked him.”

Top Posts of 2013

Top Posts for 2013

Here are the top posts for 2013 on this blog. As was the case for last year (“Top Posts for 2012”) I didn’t post much new stuff this year. The once nice thing is that my readership numbers continue to show an increase each year, though perhaps not as much as in previous years.

I hope that 2014 will be a different year in terms of my blogging/writing. It is possible that the direction of my ministry will be shifting and I won’t be posting much again. Or I may find it appropriate to go back to a post every week.

I am also thinking that I need to do more in the area of chemistry and science education. We are at a point where our knowledge of science is getting very limited and I am convinced that our ability to solve the unknown problem is quickly disappearing. Pretty soon we are going to be at a point where the only problems that we can solve are the ones where the answers are in the back of the book and that is sort of meaningless since those problems have already been solved.

So as I ponder what paths I shall take with this blog, here are the top posts from 2012 (as of 26 December 2013)

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling: A Short History of Bowling Balls, Lanes, Coatings, and Conditionersposted on July 26, 2008 (#1 in 2012)
  2. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch – posted on November 18, 2009 (#2)
  3. What is a part per million? – posted on February 19, 2010 (#3)
  4. The Twelve Disciples – Were they management potential? – posted on October 3, 2008 (#12)
  5. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? – posted on March 13, 2008 (#4)
  6. A Child’s Book Report on the entire Bible” – posted on April 5, 2008 (#13)
  7. What Does Stewardship Mean to Me – posted on November 6, 2005 (#8)
  8. Who Cuts the Barber’s Hair? – September 15, 2009 (#5)
  9. John Wooden – A Review of “A Game Plan for Life – the power of Mentoring” by John Wooden and Don Yager– October 9, 2009 (#7)
  10. The Nature of Academic Freedom – March 17, 2010 (not ranked in 2012)
  11. Describe Your Pastor” – March 11, 2008, (#19)
  12. The Difference Between Football in the North and South – October 8, 2006 (#15)
  13. Just What Is The Right Thing To Do?” – June 28, 2008, (#17)
  14. Hearing God Call (sermon/message)– January 7, 2009 (#9)
  15. Meditations On An Easter Sunrise” (sermon/message for April 20, 2003) – posted on April 6, 2013 (not ranked in 2012)
  16. The Dilemma of Modern Christianity – April 18, 2009 (#11)
  17. The Changing of Seasons” (sermon/message for October 24, 2010) – posted on October 24, 2010 (not ranked in 2012)
  18. The Meaning of Service” (sermon/message for November 17, 2002) – posted on November 14, 2008 (not ranked in 2012)
  19. There’s A Sermon In Here But First Warning” – posted on July 24, 2012 (not ranked in 2012)
  20. A Collection of Sayings – January 17, 2008 (#6) – This was actually the 21st rated post but the post that was in 20th was a summary of previous posts and is scheduled for deletion shortly.

The all-time list is

  1. The Chemistry of Bowling (#1 in 2012)
  2. Why Do We Celebrate Palm Sunday? (#2)
  3. Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch (#3)
  4. A Collection of Sayings (#4)
  5. What is a part per million? (new to the top 5)Top

“A Single Light – The Light of Christ”

Here are my thoughts for this Christmas Day, 2013. This completes the series of readings and thoughts for Advent (“A Single Light – The Light of Hope”, 1 December 2013, “A Single Light – The Light of Love”, 8 December 2013, “A Single Light – The Light of Joy, 15 December 2013, and “A Single Light – The Light of Peace, 22 December 2013).

The Scripture readings for this morning are Isaiah 52: 7 – 10, Hebrews 1: 1 – 4, 5 – 12, and John 1: 1 – 14.

We begin the light of the candles by again reading the story of Christ’s birth from Matthew 1: 18 – 25:

The Birth of Jesus

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

On this day, we re-light the candles of hope, love, joy, and peace. Surrounded by the light of hope, love, joy, and peace, the Christ Candle lights all the world to see the birth of Christ.

On Christmas

We honor Messiah with the Christ-Candle’s flame;

Our Christmas Eve candles glad tidings proclaim.

O come, all ye faithful, rejoice on this night

As God comes among us, the Christian’s true Light.

Our prayer this morning –

On this morning, when the soul is often chilled, the Birth of Jesus warms us as the light of a small fire warms our bodies. Let us rejoice this morning as we celebrate and helps us to bring the light of Christ into the world for all to see. AMEN

In all the time that I have been a lay speaker/servant or written pieces for my blog, Christmas has only come on a Sunday twice (in 2005 – “So This Is Christmas” and in 2011 – “The True Gift of Christmas”). So 2013 is the norm and not the exception I suppose.

In one sense that’s a good thing because it gets people to think of Christmas outside the boundaries of normal routine. If Christmas were a Sunday “thing” I don’t think it would have the impact that it does because it would be just another Sunday at church.

Now some will point out that Jesus was probably not born on December 25th and that the early church authorities picked that date to co-opt some pagan celebrations. And it is true that Jesus was more likely born sometime in the spring but if we were to celebrate his birth then, we might find ourselves celebrate Easter and Christmas in the same week (and I would hate to think what might happen if the happened to occur on the same day).

But to some extent, what difference does it make what day on the calendar Jesus was born? What matters most is that He was born and that His birth changes our lives! Right now, they are celebrating Christmas in Australia and New Zealand and other countries in the Southern Hemisphere. While we are in the midst of winter, they are in the midst of summer. And how can you sing about snow on Christmas Day when the temperatures may very well be in the low to mid 80s?

It isn’t about the day but what happened on that day and what it means to us. It should be more important in our thinking that Jesus was born, that He came to this world to be a part of our lives and to grow up as we grew up, understanding all that we have to deal with.

It would be a different story all together if Jesus were to have just appeared one day, out of nothing, already in his thirties, telling us of the Good News. I don’t think that there is a person today who would accept that as the truth.

But that we have a birth and that we know that Jesus grew up a part of this world means that there is something to what He says to us and what His presence in this world means something to us today.

The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus has been a part of this world from the very beginning and that He is a part of this world today. That, in one sense, could not have happened if He had not been born.

And how much joy and celebration could there be if He were not here. Oh, we could easily find some excuse for celebrating and exchanging presents on this day; after all, there were already parties in place when the decision was made to make Christmas and December 25th one and the same. But such parties would have no meaning and it would quickly become something of a status thing as to who got the most stuff this year.

For some, that’s all Christmas is, how much stuff one got. But when you stop and pause and think about what happened two thousand years ago and what was given to us, then the amount of stuff one gets becomes meaningless. We have been given the greatest opportunity ever known to mankind, the opportunity to be free from sin and death, the opportunity to go beyond the boundaries imposed by sin. It is a gift that we share and need to share with others this day.

Four weeks ago, we began preparing for this moment. Each week, as the days grew shorter and the darkness became greater, we lit a candle. And perhaps the effect of one or two candles was not enough to overcome the darkness. But today, on one of the shortest days in the year, when the darkness can be said to be at its maximum, the lighting of the Christ Candle in the center of a circle of light of hope, joy, love, and peace brings forth a brightness that no amount of darkness can deny.

We celebrate the birth of Christ because we have been given the greatest present of all, the promise and hope of salvation, of a life not limited. And what better gift can there be than that?

“A Single Light – The Light of Peace”

A Single Light – The Light of Peace

Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday in Advent (Year A), 22 December 2013. This is the fourth is a series of Advent Readings (“A Single Light – The Light of Hope”, 1 December 2013, “A Single Light – The Light of Love”, 8 December 2013, and “A Single Light – The Light of Joy, 15 December 2013).

The Scripture readings for this Sunday are Isaiah 7: 10 – 16, Romans 1: 1 – 7, and Matthew 1: 18 – 25.

Let us begin with a reading from the Old Testament, Ezekiel 37: 26:

I’ll make a covenant of peace with them that will hold everything together, an everlasting covenant. I’ll make them secure and place my holy place of worship at the center of their lives forever. I’ll live right there with them. I’ll be their God! They’ll be my people!

In this world of darkness we light the candles of hope, love, and joy and add the single light of peace.

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent

A candle is burning, a candle of Love;

A candle to point us to heaven above.

A baby for Christmas, a wonderful birth;

For Jesus is bringing God’s Love to our earth.

Our second reading in lighting the Advent candle is John 16: 31 – 33:

 “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

Our prayer this morning,

Heavenly Father, You sent Your Son to be our Lord and Savior, to bring peace to the world. As we light the fourth light this morning, help us to be the light that helps to bring peace into this world. In the name Jesus the Christ, Our Lord and Savior, we pray. AMEN

As I was reading the passage from Isaiah for this morning, the thought of Patrick Henry and his declaration that men were calling for peace at a time when there was no peace came to mind. The fourth candle of the Advent wreath represents the Light of Peace, yet most of the news for today will be about war and acts of violence, anger, and hatred.

We make speak of peace but the like the leaders who heard Isaiah’s words three thousand years ago, our thoughts seem to turn to war as the means of achieving peace. Our leaders today seem to want war at all costs, thinking that somehow, someway we can achieve peace. But what does war accomplish besides death and destruction?

Peace can only be accomplished in one way and that is through freedom. And freedom cannot be accomplished if our focus is on war, anger, and hatred. Freedom cannot be accomplished when one group seeks to exert control over another group.

Peace can only grow when people are given the opportunity to expand beyond their boundaries, to seek things which may only be visions in their minds. When I began high school in 1963, we were entering space with the intention of going to the moon and, perhaps, even beyond. But some fifty years later, we are still on this planet with only a limited presence in outer space (provided by the Russians and the International Space Station which they began), a rover from China that landed on the moon, and our rovers on Mars. A rover on the moon and rovers on Mars are nice and are giving us great information about what is going on but that is not the same as sending people into outer space and doing things in outer space.

There are those, I know, who say that we have more pressing problems here on earth and I would have to agree. But when you stop thinking outside the box, it is very difficult to even think inside the box. And right now, we are not teaching our children to think inside the box and that means that they will not be able to do any thinking, inside or outside the box. And when one cannot think, even the most mundane problems are insoluble.

To have the ability to solve problems requires vision and vision only comes from freedom. If Joseph had not had his vision, he most likely would have left Mary to the vagaries of society and where would we be today?

But Joseph, being a righteous man, was free to be open to the vision offered by the angels and his choice of a path to walk came from his own freedom. Jamey Prickett pointed out that in deciding what to do, Joseph understood that this child would need a father who would teach him to take risks, to stand with character in face of disapproval and to believe the unbelievable. As Jamey noted, how will Jesus be able to walk to Calvary if you are not able to walk to Bethlehem? (From “Believing in Dreams”)

Do we have that same ability or have we become so blind and deaf that we fail to recognize God’s work in our midst?

For us to have freedom, there must be peace in this world. There cannot be peace in this world when our focus in on war and violence. The problems of the world will not go away but only get bigger and harder to solve if we do not change our focus.

So we light the single Light of Peace but instead one light burning in the darkness, it is accompanied by the lights of Hope, Joy, and Love. Instead of one light, the world is now ablaze with the promise that tomorrow will be the day we seek instead of fear. And when the light of Christ is lit on Tuesday evening, we will know that the our world has a chance and that peace, hope, love and joy are the reality of the world and not just words in a dictionary.

“A Single Light – The Light of Joy”

Here are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday in Advent (Year A), 15 December 2013. This is the third in a series of Advent messages. The first being “A Single Light – The Light of Hope”, 1 December 2013, and the second being “A Single Light – The Light of Love”, 8 December 2013.

The Scripture readings for this Sunday are Isaiah 35: 1 – 10, James 5: 7 – 10, and Matthew 11: 2 – 11.

We begin with a reading from the Old Testament, Job 33: 26 – 28,

Or, you may fall on your knees and pray—to God’s delight! You’ll see God’s smile and celebrate, finding yourself set right with God. You’ll sing God’s praises to everyone you meet, testifying, ‘I messed up my life — and let me tell you, it wasn’t worth it. But God stepped in and saved me from certain death. I’m alive again! Once more I see the light!’”

In this world of darkness, we light the candles of hope and love and add a single of light of joy.

The Advent Candles (Tune: Away in a Manger)

On the Third Sunday of Advent

A candle is burning, a candle of Joy;

A candle to welcome brave Mary’s new boy.

Our hearts fill with wonder and eyes light and glows

Joy brightens winter like sunshine on snow.


Our second reading in lighting the Advent Candles comes from John 16: 27

Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and our heart will rejoice and our joy no one will take from you.

Our prayer this morning –

Gracious Lord, as we light this candle of joy this morning, let the brightness of the now lit three candles brighten our days as the Joy of Your Coming Birth brightens our lives. AMEN

As the days towards Christmas and the birth of Christ come closer and the lights on the Advent wreath shine even more brightly, we sense in many people a joy, a joy brought about by anticipation. Perhaps it is the Christmas presents that they will be getting, perhaps it is the Christmas presents that they will be giving. One would hope that there is a joy in knowing that soon Christ will be born again and that all will be right in the world.

For many people, the dark days of winter bring on a depression that they cannot shake. Speaking personally, this type of joy and happiness is tempered by remembrances of physical and personal pain that have occurred in my past. Hearing Elvis sing “Blue Christmas” at this time of year doesn’t really help many people getting in the mood.

And again the backdrop of all of this, there was another shooting at a high school where it appears (as I write this) a young man, filled with an unknown rage, decided the solution to a problem was a gun. And now another family must bury a child during the cold and dark days of winter.

How can there ever be joy at a time like this? And we know that in the time frame of Jesus’ birth, Herod will slaughter the innocent children in order to preserve his place on the throne.

Joy doesn’t seem to make much sense. And we begin to wonder if any of the things that we do will have any effect on life now or in the future.

As I was writing this paragraph, I remember bits and pieces of Star Trek episode where the Enterprise was transported back in time to the 1960s. Now, the essence of the plot at this point was that the crew of the Enterprise had to return things to the way they were before they were transported; otherwise, the course of time would be altered and there was no assurance that the Enterprise would exist in its own time frame. (Ah, the paradox of time travel)

And while the perils and problems of time travel and the paradox created by such events, there is the reality that what we do today does have an effect on what transpires tomorrow. It is reflected in the dialogue between Sir Thomas More and Richard Rich in one scene from “A Man For All Seasons.”

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.

Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?

Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

The problem, of course, is that we often times what the results of our efforts today so that we can enjoy them and not in the future when we may not be around to do so.

In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, John the Baptizer is in prison, perhaps fully aware that he is about to be executed. There is not much joy in his life at this moment. So he sends his disciples to Jesus to find out if this man, whom John had baptized, was going to at least carry on what he, John, had started. There is a certain sense of joy that one gets when one knows that the work they have done means something to someone. John can truthfully be worried that all the work he did in preparation for the coming of the Messiah was in vain.

Jesus tells those disciples to tell John what they saw. And Jesus also tells the people that John had been sent to prepare the way. I would hope that those words brought, if not joy, comfort to John in his last days.

The words of Isaiah for today offer that promise, perhaps not today but most definitely in a time frame with which we can relate. The Birth of Jesus, not less than two weeks away, is the promise that there will be joy in this world again.

James writes about being patient, of waiting for the moment instead of expecting it right now. But we also know that John the Baptist prepared the way and that is what we have to do as well. As we patiently await the Birth of Christ, we are preparing this world to welcome Him.

We have lit three candles to show the way. The darkness is being driven away and there is a cause and call for joy.

“A Single Light – The Light of Love”

This is a little late but here are my thoughts for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (Year A), 8 December 2013. This is the second of a series of Advent messages. The first was “A Single Light – The Light of Hope” which I posted for the 1st Sunday of Advent.

The Scripture readings for this Sunday are Isaiah 11: 1 – 10, Romans 5: 4 – 13, and Matthew 3: 1 – 12.

We begin with a reading from the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 2: 4,

But I didn’t write it to cause pain; I wrote it so you would know how much I care—oh, more than care—love you!

In this world of darkness, we light the candle of hope and add a single of light of love.

The Advent Candles (Tune: Away in a Manger)

On the Second Sunday of Advent

A candle is burning, a candle of Peace;

A candle to signal that conflict must cease.

For Jesus is coming to show us the way;

A message of Peace humbly laid in the hay.

A second reading, John 17: 26

I have made your very being known to them — Who you are and what you do — And continue to make it known, So that your love for me might be in them exactly as I am in them.”

Prayer – O God, in a world full of hatred and violence, You sent Your Son to bring Love back into it. Help us this day, as we light the second candle, the candle of Love, to make love more than a word but a truly feeling and expression of hope in this world. This we pray this day in the name of Your Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN

I begin with the news of the world and how we have reacted. This week, Nelson Mandela died. It was and is interesting to see how people in this country reacted to this man’s death.

For the youngest generations in this country, they had no clue what it was that this man died or why a nation would grieve. But this generation was born after the end of apartheid in South Africa and segregation in this country, so they should have no clue as to the horrors of this social policy that stated that all men were not created equal.

For those who knew of apartheid and segregation, the reactions were mixed. I happened to listen to a discussion on the radio on Friday and one of the “talkers” commented how many people were lauding Mandela in his death but who, when he was alive, worked against him and in support of the government of South Africa and their policy of apartheid.

I don’t know how many of this individuals changed their minds because it was politically expedient or because they finally understood what it was that Mandela worked against and what his goals were.

What bothers me more though is not the reversal of thought but that so many people will not admit that they were wrong and that he might have been right in his opposition to that policy. They will not admit that they could have done more to reverse the policies of oppression and inequality, not only in South Africa but here in the United States and elsewhere around the world.

There is one group that quietly and continually sought to remove apartheid in South Africa and segregation here in this country but I sometimes thought that it was more a social thing that an actual movement. If one is working against wrong, then you have to be involved totally and completely.

There is a group in this country today who will tell you that Mandela was a Marxist, a Communist, and/or a terrorist. They will speak about the horrors that the African National Congress inflicted on the people of South Africa and say that represented the true Nelson Mandela. I cannot support violence of any means by any group but I also know that when violence is been the method used by any group to impose its will on others and is used to suppress any group, it is categorically wrong.

But then again, I also cannot support the argument that many people make that the oppression of a people is sometimes needed to strengthen liberty. The argument was made by many of our leaders that we needed to support South Africa because it was working against communism in Africa but I always felt that it was more because we needed and wanted the gold and diamonds that came out of South African mines.

The problem is that segregation in this country and around the world has not been removed from society; it simply exists in other forms. When Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Memphis in the spring of 1968, it was as much about income equality as it was about racial justice. Even today, the people of South Africa will point out that the great divides in the country are economic in nature. And think about where many of the goods bought in the 1st world and the higher levels of the 2nd world are made. They are made in the 3rd world countries by workers earning, at best, subsistence wages in conditions that are unsafe at best.

The passage from Isaiah is one of those that is often used when speaking out against war. But is the peaceable Kingdom that Isaiah has in mind simply one in which we study war no more? Or is it one where every person, no matter who they are in economic, racial, or sexual terms, has a chance?

What will it take to have the lion lay down with the lamb? What will it take to have a world of equality? It is perhaps a cliché but the answer is represented by the 2nd candle of Advent, Love.

Why would God even think about sending His Son to this place some two thousand years ago? He didn’t send Jesus here to destroy the world or warn us that disaster loomed if we didn’t change our ways? We ignored the prophets before so sending another prophet wasn’t going to do the job. And God certainly didn’t need Jesus to destroy the world; that’s the type of job that He would do Himself and one that He had done in the past.

No, as the disciple John will write, God sent His Son to save us because He loved us that much. He loved us enough to send His Only Son, knowing that in the end, people in this world would kill Him.

Our task is perhaps the most difficult task ever envisaged and that is to take the message of Love into a world that doesn’t want to hear it or even think about it. Our task is to take the message that was given to us some two thousand years ago and make it a reality.

It is difficult to do because it is so much easier to hate people and then use violence in as many ways as we can think because we ultimately think that violence is and will be the only answer. But listen/read this words that Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote about Nelson Mandela,

Some people on the Left reject Mandela’s strategy. “How can one be openhearted toward one’s oppressors?” they say. “Fostering compassion toward oppressors will undermine the revolutionary spirit needed to defeat the evil ones.”


Yet Mandela showed us the opposite—that one can generate more solidarity and more willingness to take risks in struggle when one can clearly present one’s own movement as morally superior to the actions of the oppressors. Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement claimed this moral superiority through being able to respond to the oppressors’ hatred with great love. When Che Guevara said, “A true revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love,” he was alluding to this same truth. And this is what the Torah teaches when it instructs us to “love the stranger” (the “other”). (Lerner, Tikkun – 6 December 2013)

Every thing that Jesus said and did during His three years in the Galilee were predicated on doing that which no one expected, to show concern and care for all the people, including one’s enemies. Paul points out that what we have to do is hard work. But if you are not willing to do the extra work, how can you expect anything to happen? If you want to change the world, it must be done in ways that build the world, not destroy it.

We look at our Advent wreath with its two burning candles, the candle representing hope and the candle representing love. The world is not as dark as it was before Advent began and we know that there is hope in this world as long as we are willing to walk with Jesus. We can offer the promise of hope because we are willing to love each other as we have been loved by Christ.

Our challenge, once again, is very simple; to take the Gospel message and see that it is carried out and to do so with the same love and compassion that Christ had when He did what He know asks us to do. The world is a little brighter now and the light will continue to grow in brightness and intensity as we get closer and closer to the birth of Christ.

“A Single Light – The Light of Hope”

Here are my thoughts for the 1st Sunday in Advent (Year A), 1 December 2013.

I am doing something different during Advent. Back in 2005 and re-posted it in 2011 (“The Candles of Advent”) I wrote a liturgy but never got to use it. I had hoped to write another liturgy that was a little more complete for this Advent season but that fell through. It’s not that I don’t have anything against the traditional liturgy that we use but when you use the same stuff every year, it loses its freshness and, sometimes, its meaning.

So, I am including my thoughts about the lighting of the Advent Candles with my thoughts for the lectionary readings for this year’s Advent. I do think that the lectionary readings for this 1st Sunday of Advent (Isaiah 2: 1 – 5, Romans 13: 11 – 14, and Matthew 24: 36 – 44) speak to the hope that Christmas gives us, hope that reaches all and not just a select few.

We begin with an reading from the Old Testament, Proverbs 23: 18,

There is surely a future hope for you and your hope will not be cut off.”

In this world of darkness we light the single candle of hope.

The Advent Candles (Tune: Away in a Manger)

On the First Sunday of Advent

A candle is burning, a flame warm and bright;

A candle of Hope in December’s dark night.

While angels sing blessings from heav’n’s starry sky

Our hearts we prepare now, for Jesus is nigh.

A second reading about hope, from Jeremiah 29: 10 – 11,

This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

Prayer – O God of Life and Hope and Promise, help us to remember that in lighting this candle, we begin to take away the darkness of our life. Help us to remember that in this little glimmer of life springs a new hope, a new promise that we are not alone and forgotten in this world. Help us to find ways to make the light of hope even brighter. Help us to see the path that leads to Christ, the true hope of the world. AMEN

It is always interesting reading the passages from the Bible that some say announce the “End Times”. As one interested in cosmology, I know that there will come a time when this world and this universe will end; it is a matter of the fuel supplying the sun running out. And this is far enough away in time to not matter much to me.

But there are those who see the “End Times” as coming in our own lifetime and coming as some cataclysmic event with death and destruction prevalent and only those select few with this viewpoint being the survivors.

I don’t doubt that the world could end in our lifetime in such a way but I don’t see it as the penultimate act of God as they do. And while there are no B-52 bombers loaded with nuclear weapons sitting at the end of the runways of various Air Force Bases ready to take off at a moment’s notice, I still think that we have the capability and the desire to destroy this world.

The passage from Isaiah for the 1st Sunday in Advent is not about war, death and destruction but rather the opposite, of peace, life and rebuilding. It is about a new life, one in which all the people of this planet live in peace and, perhaps, harmony.

In Matthew, Jesus speaks of being vigilant. Again, those who want the end of the world use this as a notion for being armed and ready. But if we were to work as hard on building the peace as we seem to be preparing for war, wouldn’t the outcome be a little bit better?

What is it that Paul says? We can’t afford to waste a minute in frivolity and indulgence but rather working for Christ.

That’s why there is hope in this world today. Granted, in terms of the lights of the Advent wreath, it is a little bit on the dim side but there is still hope. We know that Christ is coming, not in final victory but to begin working towards that new life, that life that is filled with hope and promise. It is a life of peace, of joy, and of happiness, not war, death, and destruction.

Our challenge is much like the challenge Paul put before the Romans, to work to make it a possibility. We have lit one candle this day but if we all carried that light with us, the world would be ablaze with the hope found in Christ. That is the challenge we have, to take and multiply the light of hope in a world of darkness.