As we come to the close of another year and anticipate a new one, it is right that we should offer praise and thanks to our Lord. No matter what the previous year has held, you are still reading and I am still writing. This is only possible because of the Lord. Our ability to wake up every day for the past 365 mornings is because of the Lord. All of our abilities and our skills find their source in the Lord. Every possession we have, our health, and our mental capacities are due to the giving of the Lord. We have journeyed through another year and are at this point as a blessing from the Lord.
Looking into the new year, the promises of the Lord continue. While we have no idea what this new year may contain for us, we know that the Lord walks through it with us. We can depend on the Lord to lead us if we will follow. The compassion and mercy of the Lord will enrich us every day. The provisions of the Lord will sustain us throughout another year. Most of all, the love of the Lord will surround us every minute of every day in the new year.
I invite you on this New Year’s Eve to pause and say thank you.
Waiting can be a challenge for many of us. Anyone who has anticipated something tremendous to occur knows that you are often on edge. If our wait is prolonged, doubt can enter into one’s mind. A person may even become irritable because the waiting may seem unbearable. When the wait is over, a feeling of relief and joy sweeps over us.
The people of Israel had been waiting a long time for a savior, the Messiah. Some of them had given up hope, become upset, and maybe even fell away from their faith in God. One Hebrew man who remained faithful and did not waver from his belief that God would fulfill the promise of the Messiah was Simeon. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for consecration, Simeon knew the promise had been fulfilled. He offered a song of praise and thanks to God. In his song, he declared who this child was and what he would do for the world.
There are times when we have to wait for God to fulfill a promise. God’s timing seldom aligns with our own. God’s timing is perfect so waiting is often the norm for us. How we handle this wait reveals our nature. Do we become irritated, maybe even fall away from our faith? Or do we choose to respond as Simeon, remaining faithful and continuing to trust in God’s promise to be fulfilled?
There are many varieties of houses in this world. Some people live in small, one-room homes while others have places to live which have over twenty rooms. The materials used to build houses may depend on factors such as location, climate, resource availability, financial resources, and/or the owner’s needs. Some houses are single-storied, while others have two or more stories. Just as individuals vary, so do the houses in which each person lives.
In an attempt to reduce the anxiety of his disciples, Jesus tells them about a house with plenty of room which he is going to prepare for them and others. Prior to this passage, Jesus had told his disciples that he would not be with them much longer. After having followed Jesus around for almost three years, the disciples want to follow him wherever he is going next. They are afraid of being left on their own. So Jesus assured them that he is going to prepare their place where the Father dwells. He also tells them that there is plenty of room for them and he will return to take them to the place.
During Advent, part of our focus was on this promise of Jesus’s return. In today’s passage we hear of this promised return. The promise speaks of a big house where all are welcomed. Through other passages in Scripture, we gain an understanding that there will be abundance at this place. Sadness, pain, and suffering will be replaced with joy and uninhibited life. The place of Jesus’s promise is clearly a place we all would desire to experience. This place is also a home to which we should want to invite others.
Audio Adrenaline captured the promise of Jesus and created images to which we can relate today in their song, Big House. I invite you to consider the promise, the invitation, and the images which form in your mind as you listen to this song today.
As enjoyable as the holiday season is, it can leave us exhausted. All the activities and events can keep us running. With the inclusion of meal preparations, gift shopping and wrapping, baking, and hosting, our energy can quickly be depleted. When the holidays are completed for another year, many of us wish to enjoy some downtime and an opportunity to recoup some energy. We need some rest.
Jesus is talking to his followers in what Matthew records within today’s passage. An invitation is given to them and all who hear his words. The invitation begins with an offer of rest, a releasing of life’s burdens. Then an additional offer to be connected to Jesus so we might learn how to manage through life is presented. Jesus tells all that with Jesus’s assistance, we will be able to shoulder what life presents, we will not be alone.
At a time when rest may be our greatest desire, these words reassure and comfort us. The end of the holiday season is not the only time when we hunger for regeneration and assistance. We benefit from remembering that no matter what burdens life may present to us, we do not need to bear them alone. We have this promise from the Lord that the burdens will be shared. Learning alongside Jesus will allow us to understand navigating the experiences life presents without collapsing. Knowing that we are able to find respite in the Lord makes situations more bearable.
In athletic running events, swimming competitions, and a few other sports, a person is required to be qualified in order to participate. These qualification events are often referred to as preliminaries or entry heats. A participant must achieve a specific time or placing if she/he is going to be allowed to compete in the final which will determine the overall winner.
The passage taken from the first chapter in the letter written to the Colossians speaks of qualifying. The writer is sharing why thanks is given for the members of this faith community. God is lifted up as being the one who has qualified them to share in the inheritance of the people whom God has set apart. It is the action of God which has made the people heirs, not the people themselves. This action of God has brought the people into the light of the Son’s kingdom where there is redemption by the forgiveness of sin.
In sporting events, one’s qualification depends solely upon the athlete’s or team’s performance. Colossians indicates that our qualifying to be participants in the Son’s kingdom has no dependency upon us, instead it is God who does the qualifying. This is exciting news because we would fail to qualify if it were not for the forgiveness found in Jesus.
Tonight we take time to recall the incarnation of God in a small Israeli town called Bethlehem. We will probably recite or hear the recitation of the events surrounding a nightly birth of our Savior. The story involves a young couple, a humble setting, some shepherds, an angel, a multitude of angels, and a baby. We also consider how this same Savior enters our own life. Another consideration which should come into our minds is the planning for the event of the Savior entering our world again in a much different way.
The song which I am sharing with you this Christmas Eve is from the artist Hannah Kerr. In the song, Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, she asks us to enter into the lives of some of the key players in the incarnation story. Would we act and respond the same way that Scripture records they did? She then reminds us that we will experience another arrival of the Savior and the lyrics prompt us to ponder our responses.
Many times as we share the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus, one character is barely mentioned or overlooked entirely. Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father, is that person. Even the gospel writers make little mention of Joseph. He is only included at the time of the birth. His presence is inferred in Luke 2:41ff when his “parents” are mentioned as the boy Jesus is found in the temple. So we are left to imagine what it must have been like to be the father of the Savior.
Michael McLean attempts to place us in the shoes of Joseph in his song, I Was Not His Father, He Was Mine. Consider Joseph as you listen to this beautiful song. How would you view your situation if you were Joseph? What perspective is provided in the lyrics?
We spend so much time running around this time of year in search of the perfect gifts. All of us have at least someone in our lives who we label as the impossible one for whom to buy the right gift. The idea of gift giving at Christmas time stems from the story of the wisemen bringing gifts to Jesus. Yet Jesus was actually the greatest gift to humanity. Jesus is also the perfect gift that everyone needs and fits everyone on our list. This year, receive the gift of Jesus and offer the gift to others.
Advent is a season of expectations in the Church. We recall the expectation the people of Israel had for the arrival of the Messiah. We who are on this side of the incarnation, live with the expectation of Jesus’s return. Expecting generates an energy within our lives. If we are expecting the birth of a new child, there is an excitement which energizes us and prompts us to prepare. Children during this time of year are expecting a visit from Santa and the acquiring of presents. Their expectations energize them, adults may call them hyper at this time. Expecting, or anticipating, infuses our lives with great energy.
The author of the letter to the church in Collosae writes about our Advent expectations. We read about the appearance of Christ. A promise is made that when Christ appears we will be joined with him in glory. The reminder that our life is now in Christ, we have died to our self-centered life, is placed before us. In order to prepare for this expected event, we set our minds on what it will mean to be in the full spiritual presence of God and not on the priorities of the world in which we now live.
This Advent, think of the experience you will have when Christ appears. Consider what it means to have Christ as your life. Sense the energy this expectation fills you with even now. Focus on the priorities and ways of God.