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.
During the holidays, people travel a lot and stay in all types of places. Some opt to stay with family. Others choose hotels and motels for accomodations. A few may decide to stay at a bed and breakfast or maybe rent a cabin. On the other side of the equation are the hosts, hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and cabin owners. These all must decide if they have available room for guests.
A key component of the story of Jesus’s birth involves travel and accomodations. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem in response to a decree by the Roman Emperor. When they arrive, they search the city for a place to stay. The question which Joseph probably asked again and again was, “Do you have room for us?” This is a question which the Lord asks each of us still today. “Do you have room for me?” Ponder your response as you listen to Casting Crowns sing Make Room.
If you are a Star Wars fan, you know that the first released movie trilogy was toward the middle of the whole story. Since the first three movies were released, we have received the three chapters of the story which were before the original movies. There have been prequels, sequels, individual character focus, and parts in between made into movies. Star Wars is not the only movie franchise which has included prequels and sequels. Some have also had spin-offs featuring characters from the original movie; i.e., the Marvel stories. We are even beginning to watch movies and anticipate these additional ones since it has become so commonplace.
Today’s passage is a necessary prequel to the story of Jesus Christ. We encounter Zechariah, one of God’s faithful priests, and his wife Elizabeth. Much like we will see in the announcement of Jesus’s impending birth, Zechariah is amazed at the angel’s words as he is consumed with fear and doubt. This presents us a precursor of the angelic announcement to Mary and Joseph. Because of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s age, the idea of a child being conceived is almost preposterous, similar to the unlikeliness of Mary becoming pregnant based on her circumstances. The child, John, will always be preparing people for Jesus and it begins with this announcement of his upcoming birth.
As we continue to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’s birth and look toward the Savior’s return, this story of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John has value in our understanding of Jesus. John is the prequel to Jesus. This is why people were wondering if John was the Messiah. If we overlook John’s story, we lack the preparedness to experience Jesus’s story. Spending time discovering Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son John, helps us to anticipate Jesus’s birth and life.
John’s gospel account does not contain the narrative of Jesus’s birth like Matthew and Luke have done. Instead, the incarnation story is contained in what biblical scholars refer to as John’s prologue. In the prologue we hear of the Son, or Word, existing from the beginning. John tells us that the Son and God are one. The other significant aspects of the passage are the concepts of light and flesh.
John refers to Jesus as light shining unhindered into the darkness. This reminds us that the incarnation was an abrupt intrusion into the world. There is power in this light shining into the world. The light spreads to others as well. One of the reasons the Church chose to celebrate the incarnation on December 25 is because this is the darkest time for those living in the northern hemisphere where the Church was centered. The idea of light shining into their darkness was a meaningful illustration as presented by John’s gospel.
In this passage, John also speaks of the Word, or Son, becoming flesh. That is what we know as the incarnation, a deity taking on human flesh. No other faith tradition records an occurrence of this. There is a distinct separation of a god and humanity in all other religious systems. The concept that God became human and lived among humanity as Jesus is beyond understanding outside of Christianity.
John may not include the narrative of Matthew or Luke which included Jesus’s parents, shepherds, a stable, angels and a chorus of praise but John tells of the incarnation. God has become human and lived with humanity. God is as a bright, unquenchable light piercing into the darkness of the world and the lives of humans. This is what we celebrate on December 25.
There is not a person on earth who can predict the future. We have no idea what is going to happen in the next thirty seconds, let alone a day, a month, a year, or ten years from now. We may have insights into possibilities and probabilities based on observations and patterns. But these predictions are not absolute and often lack some level of accurate detail. This is why many become frustrated with meteorologists because their weather predictions have a limited level of accuracy.
So the song which I am sharing with you today is based on a question which is unfair to Mary. Mary’s announcement from the angel was alarming and unpredictable. How could Mary ever know who and what Jesus would become? Even if she connected her child to the ancient prophecies, she could not know the details or timing. This song shares what we, on the other side of Jesus’s story, know happened. We know who Mary’s child is and what he has done.
As you listen to Mark Lowry’s version of the gospel, consider what you know about Mary’s child. How do you tell others what you know?
Today we have so many ways to communicate. The use of electronic messaging is now commonplace and the top method of sharing a message with others. A person can feel overwhelmed at times with the number of messages received in one day. Some of these messages are uplifting, helpful, informative, and/or meaningful. Other messages are upsetting, destructive, trivial and/or annoying. There are times when we experience great joy with the message we receive. Still at other times we may be shocked by the contents of the message. Messages have the ability to inspire and motivate, or they can leave us scared and defeated.
The reading for today is a portion of Luke’s narrative on the birth of Jesus. A messenger of God comes to Mary. The greeting which the messenger offers is unsettling for Mary. She is informed to not worry because she is seen in a positive light by God. This is followed by the announcement that she is to conceive a son who God wishes to be named Jesus. The last statements in this portion of the message describes who this child will be in life. The description fits the prophecies regarding the Messiah. What an unnerving, and yet profound message Mary has received, a message she received because she chose to be open to it.
Many messages came our way on a daily basis. In reading about Mary’s receipt of a message, an obvious question presents itself, “Am I open to receive a message from God?” Since God does not use conventional means to deliver messages to us, we must be alert to the various ways God may choose to communicate with us. The most frequent method is through other people who God places in our path. But God uses Scripture, the arts, nature and even dreams as well. We may receive profound and life-changing messages as Mary did. We may also receive messages of reassurance, love, forgiveness, and hope. Whatever the message may be, we can only receive it if we are open and alert for it.