pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love Overflowing

Reading: Hebrews 1: 1-12

Verse 12: “You remain the same, and your years will never end”.

Today is Christmas! Merry Christmas!

Our passage from Hebrews is a great place to be on Jesus’ birthday. Today in our reading we are reminded first of Jesus’ divinity. He is “the exact representation of God’s being”. We are also reminded that Jesus has always been – “you laid the foundations of the earth”. And we are reminded of Jesus Christ’s eternity – “you remain the same, and your years will never end”. Jesus is the One who was and is and is to come.

In our passage we are also reminded that Jesus is the One who fulfills all righteousness. He was born and laid in a humble manger, accepting the limits and vulnerabilities of the flesh. Yet while in that body Jesus remained pure and holy – fully righteous. While in the flesh, Jesus revealed the core character of the God that He was the exact image of: love. In all that Jesus did and said and thought, love was the guide. May this too be our guide. In all we do and say and think today, may we be like Jesus, our love overflowing to all.

Prayer: Lord, may I be love today. May all I meet know your love. Amen.


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Be the Light

Reading: Isaiah 9: 2-7

Verse 2: “On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned”.

Our passage today from Isaiah 9 is a good place to start Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is a wonderful day of worship and celebration and anticipation and joy and hope and love. Tonight we worship the birth of Jesus Christ!

Isaiah 9 is a good place to start today though. The prophet announces that “on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned”. Jesus is the light and there is much reason to celebrate the light. But read again these first few words: “on those living in the land of the shadow”. Other translations render this a “land of darkness”. This too is a reality as we sit on the edge of the coming of the light.

Many people today live in the shadow or in the darkness. They’re nice enough folks, but they do not know the light. For some, their hearts are hard and they love the darkness. For some, circumstances have led them into the darkness – addictions, upbringing, poverty… And for some, they simply have never heard the good news that the light of the world brings. It is to all of these that we are called.

As the children of God, we are called to the hardened, to the sinners, to the lost and broken, to the outsiders. We are called to carry the light to them. We are called to go out and to enter the darkness, allowing the light of Christ in us to penetrate the hearts of those living outside of Jesus Christ and His love. May we be the light today so that all will know the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Be the light today!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be the light today and every day! Amen.


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focus

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verse 36: “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”.

Advent begins this Sunday. It is a season of anticipation and expectation. It reminds us that we live in a now-not-yet space. Last week’s passage from Revelation reminded us that Jesus “was, is, and is to come”. This connects to our passage today and is a great pre-Advent thought. The Latin word that we derive “Advent” from is itself derived from the Greek word “parousia” – a term commonly used to describe the second coming of Jesus. Our passage today opens with signs that will proceed Jesus “coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. We are encouraged to “stand up and lift your heads” as we await His return. We are encouraged to stand up and declare our faith – to wish people a joyous “Merry Christmas” (instead of the secular “Happy Holidays”) and to focus ourselves and others on Jesus Christ during Advent.

Jesus uses the illustration of the fig tree to keep us focused and looking up and forward. Just as the buds indicate summer is near, we are to look for signs of the kingdom near us. Where can we see hope and love lived out this week? Where can we experience mercy and grace and forgiveness this week? Where can we be signs of the nearness of God’s kingdom, bringing hope and love, mercy and grace and forgiveness to other’s lives this week?

Our passage today closes with another good reminder. It ties back into the “stand up” idea. Maybe Jesus knew what Christmas would become. He warns us to be careful lest we become”weighed down” and filled with anxiety. As a parent I can remember times when I was weighed down and filled with anxiety over the gifts and reactions to them. It can be easy to go there. When our focus shifts away from God and His kingdom, then yes, the day will close upon us “like a trap”.

Instead, Jesus encourages us to “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”. Jesus must ever be our focus during the Advent season. Our eyes and heart must remain fixed on the Son of Man. Our lives will reveal what is truly in our heart and soul this Advent season. May Jesus Christ be what people experience in and through us.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to focus in on you alone this Advent season. Keep my eyes and heart on you and the coming of your kingdom. May my life reveal your Son as the focus of Advent and of Christmas. Amen.


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Garments of Salvation

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 to 62:3

Verse 11: “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”.

Ah!!  Christmas Day is here!  It feels as if all were right in the world as our families and homes are filled with love.  Yes, there is still hurt and brokenness and violence out there in the world, but on this day it feels a bit more distant.  On this day we celebrate that love was born and in faith we believe that evil will never defeat Christ’s love.  Ever since that first Christmas Day, Jesus’ love has shone out into the darkness, chasing evil and all its companions away.  Thanks be to God for the love that He sent into the world long ago in that Bethlehem town.

On this day in particular we live into verse eleven:  “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”.  Love springs up all around today in our homes and in our neighborhoods and in our communities.  Righteousness springs up through us and our acts of love and kindness.  This love comes not from us but from God.  Our passage today reminds us that when we rejoice in the Lord, He clothes us in “garments of salvation” and in “robes of righteousness”.  When we proclaim Jesus as King of our lives we rest in the knowledge that this same baby Jesus also died for our sins.  We are sure of our salvation and begin to live righteous lives.  Righteousness and praise do spring up all around as we share the love of Jesus with the world.

It is from this place of salvation that we joyfully join Christ in shining that light our into the world.  From this place we go forth to love the unlovable, to bring comfort and healing to the broken, to let the least know that they are worthy and valued, and to bring hope to those trapped in despair and pain.  We go forth filled with the love of Christ to share this love with a world in need.  Merry Christmas indeed!  Merry Christmas!


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Joy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-18 – “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.

The Christmas season is a time when joy and love seem to abound in extra measure.  At our churches, the Children’s Christmas Program brings smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts long after the program itself has ended.  The Christmas songs on the radio or our play stations and the specials on television also add to the joy of the season.  Extra time with family and friends is an added bonus that brings us even more joy.

On the past two Sundays in many churches we have lit the candles of hope and peace and have been reminded of how, in Christ, God brings these things to the world.  This Sunday we will light the candle of joy and will be reminded of how Christ also brings us joy during the Advent season.  Joy is an emotion that naturally surrounds a birth as well.  So it is fitting that we await the birth of Jesus with much joy.

Yet very quickly after December 25, for many the Christmas season will end.  We turn from time with family and celebrations with great food and merriment to times of being alone and figuring out how we can lose what we gained and pay for what we gave.  Christmas is too often moved on from and picked up long before the season is actually over.  And if we are not careful, the joy that filled us and lifted our spirits can also slip away.

To be joyful in Christ is a trait that Christians should have all year round.  Christ does not go away with the trees and bows and songs.  But our heightened sense of joy can go.  To keep our sense of joy requires some intentional effort on our part.  We must choose to cultivate a sense of joy in our hearts all year long.  Whether we make it a portion of our daily prayer time or whether we keep a little “thank” journal that we write in each day or whether we post a few things that we are thankful for each day on social media, we must thank God each day for His presence, love, and activity in our lives.  As we practice being joyful, we will find that joy becomes a natural part of our daily lives.  It is then that we begin to live into these words:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.  May it be so.  Amen.


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What a Gift

Christmas cards are still a staple at Christmas time for many people.  Stores sell tons of cards and many people make their own Christmas cards with pictures of their families on the front.  Most of the cards have something to do with the Christ aspect of Christmas.  The references can be through Bible verses or quotes, through using the many names of Jesus, or through the good news of peace, joy, love, and hope.

Christmas carols are another staple of the season and also do the same things to share Christmas and the spirit of the season.  The ‘classics’ are a collective memory that we all share.  It is a wonderful part of Christmas to joyously lift our voices in song to tell the good news.  Sometimes we even go caroling to places like nursing homes and in our neighborhoods to share Christmas with others.

And, of course, Christmas services also draw us back to Christ as the center of Christmas.  In our worship services we read the scriptures and also sing the songs.  We use prayer and the proclaimed word as well to share the story of Christmas.  Perhaps we share in communion.  Tomorrow on Christmas Eve we also light the Christ candle and place it in the center of the Advent wreath, recognizing Jesus Christ as the center of our peace, joy, love, and hope.

Advent is also a time of personal study and reflection.  We read a devotional book or use an Advent calendar to connect to the season in a deeper way.  These personal practices have the same purpose as the corporate practices: to remind us of Jesus and what a gift He is to us and to all of humanity.  Thanks be to God for this gift.

Scripture reference: Colossians 3: 15-17


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The True Light

One cannot read passages such as today’s and not think that, yes, the world is in pretty bad shape.  One can look at all of the disasters and evil befalling the world and think maybe the end is drawing near.  Maybe it is drawing near.  As we look at our world it can be easy to feel powerless and maybe even a little hopeless.  Some of the issues are so big and we are so small.  Indeed, if it were up to just us to save the world, we would be in trouble.  But it is not up to us.  It is up to God and He calls on us to help.

At the end of today’s passage, Jesus tells us where to start: with ourselves.  He warns us to be careful, to be ready, and to be on watch.  In Christmas terms we are to prepare our hearts and to call out ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel.’  As we enter Advent today we do so with the feeling that something is coming.  We prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ’s birth and to anticipate His return.  We also prepare ourselves to be His light and love in our world each and every day.

Christ’s love must shine brightly in our hearts.  It must be brighter and more joyful than all the Christmas lights, fancy jingles, and hoopla.  As Christ’s ambassadors we must joyfully share the hope and love we find in Jesus Christ.  In our dark world, hope and love will go a long way.  The world is broken and needs to be reconciled to Jesus.  This Advent season may we play our role in helping God’s love and hope shine in the darkness.  May we help reveal the true Light of Christmas to the world.

Scripture reference: Luke 21: 25-36