Jesus is Alive And Well! – Quote

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceJesus is Alive and Well

Over the past few weeks I have been completely overwhelmed by the faith and the love demonstrated by those who God’s Holy Spirit has brought into this church. The feelings within me are so deep, so profound, they have become a jumble of thought and emotion. So much so that I find it hard to even put them into writing. I am so moved by how God is working here, in this place, that I know, without an ounce of doubt, that Jesus is Alive and Well!

Spiritual Quote

“The whole being of any Christian is faith and love. Faith brings the person to God, love brings the person to people.”
~Martin Luther

Planned Scripture

  • I John 4:7-21
  • I Corinthians 13

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Through the Eyes of Luke – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceThrough the Eyes of Luke

Introduction

This week we view the Christmas story Through the Eyes of Luke. Many would say that the symbols Luke used and the story he tells couldn’t possibly be true. Though perhaps not literally true, and though they may not make complete sense to us given our current knowledge and understanding, when we look beyond the literal word to the example of faith the words portray, the stories are true none the less.

Spiritual Quote

“The Bible is not supposed to make sense, it is supposed to make faith.”
~Kamran Karimi

 Thoughts

Luke was, in all likelihood, a Gentile convert. Like Mark and Matthew before him, Luke was not an eye witness to the events of Jesus’ birth, life, or ministry. Chapter 1, verse 2 tells us, “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us.” By his own statement we see that Luke relied on what he had heard, and grew to believe, rather than what he saw.

In verse 1, Luke states that many people had undertaken the task of compiling the narratives and in verse 3 he states his purpose – to place those narratives in order. he relied heavily on Mark. He also relied on material from either Matthew or what is referred to as the Q material; perhaps both. Other sources, no doubt, also existed. There are enough differences between Mark and Matthew’s Gospels and Luke’s, however, to suggest that Luke was the first to puts such material in writing.

Luke’s account of the Christmas story reads much like a Christmas pageant. Perhaps this is the reason his version of Jesus’ birth is the one most often acted out in Christmas pageants today. It is in this Gospel we hear of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, the shepherds, the manger, etc. Throughout Luke’s narrative, characters seem to enter, the scene plays out, and then the scene ends with words like, “And when his time of service had ended he went straight to his house” (1:23), “And the angel departed from her” (1:38), and “…Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home” (1:56). Indeed, a playbill might read:

  • Act 1, Scene 1 – Zechariah and Elizabeth
  • Act 1, Scene 2 – Angelic Annunciation to Mary
  • Act 1, Scene 3 – Mary and Elizabeth
  • Act 1, Scene 4 – Elizabeth Gives Birth to John (the Baptist)
  • Act 2, Scene 1 – Journey to Bethlehem
  • Act 3, Scene 2 – Jesus is Born
  • Act 3, Scene 3 – Shepherds Keep Watch
  • Act 4, Scene 4 – Circumcision, Naming, and Presentation of Jesus

Unlike the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Luke’s Gospel creates a parallel between John the Baptist and Jesus. He alone provides details about John, he defines how John and Jesus impact each other, and always points his reader to Jesus’ supremacy.

Luke opens with the introduction of King Herod. Herod was made King of Judea in 40 B.C.E. by the Roman senate. He ruled until his death in 4 B.C.E. This is important when we look back to Matthew and his tale of Herod ordering the massacre of the first born males. For that order to have taken place, and to have an impact on Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, Jesus would have had to have been born prior to 4 B.C.E. And, it becomes important in Luke’s story, as we’ll see later.

After introducing the time as being the time of Herod, Luke turns aour attention to Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s parents. This is the only known source of information about John’s parentage. How did Luke know of it? Was this Luke’s attempt to tie his message to the Jewish past and, at the same time, maintain his theme of Jesus’ supremacy over John?

Zechariah was a priest and his wife, Elizabeth, was identified only as a “daughter of Aaron.” They were a righteous and obedient couple, advanced in years. But, despite their obedience, they were childless. Which, at the time was thought to be the result of being out of favor with God.

Zechariah is also the name of the Old Testament prophet. The Book of Zechariah talks of rebuilding the temple, purifying and returning the community to God, and foretells the messianic age. And, the Book of Zechariah comes immediately before the Book of Malachi. Malachi is not the name of the author, but rather a Hebrew word which means “my messenger.” It is in Malachi:1 we read, “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way for me.” Could this be Luke’s way of setting the stage for John to prepare the way for Jesus? With John as the messenger foretold by Malachi, and with Zechariah immediately preceding Malachi, just as a father immediately precedes a son, giving John’s father the name of Zechariah sets the stage and expertly ties the events to the Jewish past.

The name of Elizabeth as John’s mother also sets the stage for Luke’s ties between john and Jesus. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the only Elizabeth was Elisheba, Aaron’s wife. Aaron was Moses’ brother. Their sister was Miriam, the Jewish name for Mary. Luke is the only Gospel writer to suggest John and Jesus were related by blood. Elisheba and Miriam were sisters-in-law, and their children would be first cousins. This relationship and tie-back to Jewish Scripture, again, sets up the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary as kinswomen, and the relationship between John and Jesus.

Luke’s story continues with Zechariah’s angelic vision and the annunciation, naming Gabriel as the messenger, proclaiming he and Elizabeth would bear a son, despite their advanced years. Details of Zechariah’s vision correlate perfectly to those of Daniel in the Old Testament. Luke has expertly rooted the births of John and Jesus into the ancient Jewish Scriptures. As the scene closes, we move on to Scene 2, and the introduction of Mary.

It is six months later and we are now in Nazareth. Gabriel’s greeting, “Rejoice, highly favored one,” in Greek translates the Hebrew meaning of the name Hannah – literally, “favored one.” Daniel provided the backdrop to Zechariah. Similarly, Hannah, who was the barren woman who gave birth to Samuel, provided the backdrop to the story of Mary.

In Luke, unlike Matthew, the angel appeared to Mary, not Joseph. It is here that Luke includes the concept of Mary’s virginity. It is Luke’s way of paralleling John and Jesus, yet maintaining Jesus’ superiority. “The birth of John the Baptist was achieved by having an elderly childless woman become an expectant mother. Jesus’ birth had to top that in wonder. Both were acts of God, but virginal conception is a greater miracle than ending barrenness.”* After all, God had ended barrenness before. The scene ends with Gabriel departing and Scene 3 opens with Mary traveling to be with Elizabeth.

When Mary greets Elizabeth, the baby, John, leapt in Elizabeth’s womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Once again, Jesus’ supremacy to John is established. Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit at the time of conception; Elizabeth became filled with Holy Spirit only when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, came near to her. After staying three months, the scene ends with Mary returning home to Nazareth. Scene 4 opens with the birth of John the Baptist, John being named and circumcised, and his presentment to the people. With this, Act 1 comes to a close.

Act 2 opens with a decree from Caesar Augustus that “all the world should be registered.” This is the census decree that, for Luke, would have Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem. Writing some 100 years after the events, Luke seems to have interwoven pieces of history in order to accomplish the task of getting Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Jesus could not have been born in Nazareth because, as you’ll remember, nothing good can come from Nazareth.

Herod, we know, died in 4 B.C.E. Quirinius was made legate in Syria in 6 C.E., ten years later. There is no historical evidence of a census that required people to return to their ancestral home. Quirinius did order a census in 6-7 C.E., but it would have been after the time of Jesus’ birth and it covered only Galilee, not Judea. For Luke, the census and subsequent travel to Bethlehem served the purpose of getting Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, thus fulfilling Jewish expectations.

Having Jesus born in Bethlehem also served another purpose. It was another way Luke could show Jesus’ superiority over John. John the Baptist was born in an undisclosed city. Jesus, however, was born in the city of David. And, so it is that we have a near-term Mary and her husband, Joseph, traveling the almost 100 miles to the city of Bethlehem.

Just how long Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem before Jesus’ birth is uncertain. It didn’t seem particularly important to Luke. What was important was the swaddling cloth and where Jesus was laid. “The manger did not symbolize poverty but a peculiarity of location caused by circumstances. The lack of lodging was the means Luke employed to explain the use of the manger. Perhaps there is, as Hendrickx suggests, an allusion here to Jeremiah (14:8), where the prophet complained that when God visited the chosen people, God did not stay with those who were God’s people but lodged in an inn, as a foreign traveler would do.

The child Jesus, as an expression of God’s new disposition toward the people, should not stay in an in but should tabernacle with the people. The key to this concept is in the meaning of the word manger. Isaiah had written many years before, “The ox knows his owner and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (1:3). “Master’s crib” is translated in the Septuagint by the same word that Luke used here for manger. By placing the Savior in a manger, by making that the place where the shepherds were to find him, Luke was saying that God’s people were finally beginning to know the one who created and chose them. They would know their owner and their owner’s manger. This theme solidified the double use of the phrase “swaddling cloths” in verse 7 and again in verse 12. In the apocryphal Book of Wisdom, Solomon, Judah’s wealthiest king, said, “i was carefully swaddled and nursed, for no king has any other way to begin at birth” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:4 & 5). To be wrapped in swaddling cloths (not clothes) was a sign that Israel’s Messiah, its real King, was not an outcast among His people but was properly received and was one to whom proper care was given…The baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloths, for, as Solomon suggested, this was the way every king began at birth. He was placed and found in the manger because he knew the God to whom he belonged.”

With Jesus born, scene 2 ends and scene 3 begins – enter the shepherds. Luke replaces Matthew’s magi with shepherds. Shepherds were somewhat outcast in Jewish culture. Perhaps Luke was letting us know that even at the time of His birth Jesus lived among, and was the Lord of, the outcasts. Also, Jesus was to have been born in Bethlehem – the city of David. David, you’ll remember, was a shepherd boy who was called by God to be king of Israel. Jesus was King, the Son of God, who would be known as the Good Shepherd, gathering all people unto God.

It is also in this scene that we have the angels appearing, making an annunciation to the shepherds, and singing and praising God. This is one more way Luke depicts Jesus’ superiority. Following all other annunciations, canticles, or songs of praise, were sung by the person receiving the message. here, however, the messengers, the angels themselves, sing the songs of praise.

For Luke, “God’s angels recognized at birth what the disciples came to see after Jesus’ death. The one who was King, Savior, and Messiah had come in the name of the Lord.” And so, with this angelic message, the shepherds traveled to Bethlehem, found the baby Jesus laid in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloths, and scene 3 comes to a close.

The final scene opens with Jesus’ circumcision and the naming ceremony. Unlike Matthew, who had Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt, Luke shows how, from the very beginning, Jesus was raised according to the Scriptures. The circumcision and naming ceremony, according to Jewish law, took place on the eighth day following His birth. Also, in keeping with the law, Mary observed 33 days of purification following the circumcision. At the end of this time, Jesus was presented at the temple, dedicating Mary’s firstborn to the Lord. Following the dedication, a burnt offering of a lamb was required. However, if a lamb could not be afforded, two turtledoves or pigeons could be substituted. Still keeping with the law, but demonstrating their lack of wealth, Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph made an offering of either turtledoves or pigeons.. The scene progresses with examples of prophecy and of Mary and Joseph’s continued obedience to the law; and it concludes with Jesus, at age 12, claiming awareness of His origins as God’s Son.

Closing Thoughts

Luke’s Gospel, indeed, reads like a grand play. It’s no wonder it is the story most often acted out in Christmas pageants worldwide. “Through Luke this pageant that once played to limited audiences in a Jewish-Christian community has now played to countless millions of people of every ethnic background the world over. With images drawn primarily from Luke’s birth store we sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night,” and “Silent Night, Holy Night,” and we too are drawn to that stable where time and eternity meet and where humanity and divinity interact, and we still invite that child, born amid the wonders of a heavenly chorus, to be born again, but this time in us so that we too might be incarnations of God’s presence in our world.”*

Like Mark and Matthew, Luke’s Gospel is meant to illumine its readers with the power and the glory of our Lord, Jesus Christ; and to draw its readers into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God. And, like our quote states, it’s not required that the stories make any particular sense. The Bible isn’t meant to make sense, it’s meant to inspire faith, and a deep, personal relationship with God, through His Son Jesus Christ.

I’d like to close with these words from John Shelby Spong:

“…[The] narratives capture truth to the eyes of faith; truth that mere prose cannot capture. This truth touches the hearts of men and women in every generation with the power of its insight. In this alien and sometimes hostile universe, when fragile human beings stare into the vastness of space wondering whether they are alone, the message of these narratives comes to proclaim that beyond our finitude there is the infinity of God who embraces us, and that this God has drawn near to us in the person of Jesus. Through that divine life, human beings have received the ultimate validation of their worth. Heaven and earth have come together in a babe born in Bethlehem. We are not alone. We are not just an accident of a mindless physical proces sof evolution. We are special folk, the recipients of the love of God. Our humanity has been judged a worthy vehicle in which the love of God can dwell. The Holy Spirit hovers over each of us to assist us in the process of the Christ being born in us. So we too can sing glory to God in the highest, and we too can journey to those places that become Bethlehem for us, the places where God is experienced as dwelling in our midst and inviting us to come, worship, and adore.”*

And so it is. Amen.

Scripture:

  • Malachi 3:1
  • Luke 1 & 2

Acknowledgements

Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong, Author: Born of a Woman

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Through the Eyes of Luke – Quote

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceThrough the Eyes of Luke – Introduction

This week, we conclude our review of the birth narratives by examining Jesus’ birth Through the Eyes of Luke.

Spiritual Quote

“The Bible is not supposed to make sense, it is supposed to make faith.”
~Kamran Karimi

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Join us Sunday for worship and fellowship.

We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

Through the Eyes of Matthew – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceThrough the Eyes of Matthew – Introduction

Continuing our examination of Jesus’ birth, this week we’ll look Through the Eyes of Matthew.

Spiritual Quote

Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. You can’t see the future, yet you know it will come; you can’t see the air, yet you continue to breathe.
~Claire London

Thoughts

Like Mark, the writer of the Gospel known as Matthew never heard or met Jesus. In all likelihood he was a very educated Jewish scribe, trained in the ancient Jewish Scriptures. Writing approximately 50 years after Jesus’ death, and 85 years after Jesus’ birth, Matthew drew heavily from the experiences told by others, which also shaped his own personal experience in coming to know the Lord Jesus as the Messiah for whom the Jews had been waiting. His experience was profound. His work “is a proclamation of a living faith.”* And, it is through his words that we, too, can experience what Jesus meant at the time, and what He can mean to us today.

What events were taking place at the time Matthew wrote his Gospel? Rome had crushed the Jewish nation. Jerusalem had been destroyed. All that remained of the temple was one wall – what is today referred to as the “wailing wall.” Having no homeland, the Jews were scattered. The newly converted Jewish Christians began to lose their ties to the Jewish community. More and more Gentiles were coming into the Christian faith. And, during this time, Jewish Christians were excommunicated from the synagogues. Matthew was likely among them.

It was amidst this turmoil that Matthew felt called by the Holy Spirit to write his Gospel. Of course, Mark’s Gospel already existed, and Matthew probably had that work in front of him as a reference. But Matthew seemed to find Mark’s message was somehow incomplete. He expanded on Mark’s message, and added information when he felt it necessary. “His desire was to illumine the presence of the God he met in Jesus, to proclaim how (this) Jesus had fulfilled the yearnings of the ages, how Jewish hopes, traditions, expectations, and even folklore had found completion in this human life that he had come to acknowledge as Immanuel, Lord, and Christ.”

Matthew’s understanding of and respect for Jewish law is evidenced by words he attributed to Jesus. it is in his Gospel that we read, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

A hint that he was a Pharasaic scribe is found in 23:2 when he says, “the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat; so practice whatever they tell you.” But, he had little regard for those Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus, calling them “hypocrites who shut the kingdom of heaven against the people” (23:13), and “whitewashed tombs, who obey the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit” (23:27).*

With the increasing separation from its Jewish past, Matthew wanted the increasingly Gentile converts to remember the origins of their faith. We tend to forget the Jewish origins of our faith still today. Matthew’s story is written in traditionally Haggidic Midrash style – he brings the events of the past into the present, thus keeping them alive and showing how they illumine not only the past, but the present, and the future.

The Torah consists of the first five books of the Jewish Bible. Matthew’s Gospel is written in 5 books. The introduction of his books was the birth story, which itself is broken into five episodes – the genealogy, the annunciation (angelic message), the magi, the flight into Egypt to escape the massacre, and the return from Egypt.* The Jews at the time would have recognized this format and its symbolism.

Opening with the genealogy, Matthew clearly wanted it to be known that Jesus was a direct descendent of David. Joseph was said to be a legitimate heir to the throne of David. When Joseph accepted Jesus as his Son, Jesus then became a “son of David.”

It’s interesting, however, to go through the “who begat whom.” First, it doesn’t seem to be a complete list. The numbers of generations don’t match up the number of years – approximately 1750 years had elapsed between Abraham and Jesus. In counting the names, only 41 are listed when there should be 41 (14×3). Additionally, “he left out four generations and six kings who actually ruled in Jerusalem.”* There must have been something about the 14-14-14 that Matthew felt was important and that the Jews of his time would understand.

It’s also interesting that the genealogy included five women. In those times, women were not mentioned in genealogies. And, each of the women were products of some type of scandal. Tamar pretended to be a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law. Rahab was another prostitute who helped the spies escape Jericho. Ruth was a Moabite who slept in Boaz’s bed while he was drunk, basically forcing him to fulfill his responsibility as kinfolk and marry her. Bathsheba committed adultery with David. David then orchestrated her husband Uriah’s death. Finally, we come to Mary, who became pregnant while betrothed to Joseph. Could it be that including the first four women was Matthew’s attempt to show that Mary’s pregnancy, though scandalous at the time, was not without precedent in Jewish history? And, regardless of the circumstance, it is by the power of God that great things can be accomplished to achieve His divine purpose.

Moving on to Mary, a virgin conception seems not to be Matthew’s focus. The text quoted from Isaiah, was not translated correctly. The Greek text of Isaiah 7:14 was translated as, “Behold a virgin shall conceive.” However, in the ancient Hebrew, text, Isaiah 7:14 simply reads, “behold a young woman shall conceive.” The Hebrew word is “‘almah” and means “young woman.” The word for virgin is “betulah.” It’s used to mean virgin in more than 50 Hebrew Scriptures, and is the only word used to mean virgin. “‘Almah” is used ten times, and is never used for virgin.

In his writing, Matthew was clearly demonstrating to his primarily Jewish audience that Jesus was both of the Davidic line and divine. It was his way of explaining Paul’s statement of Jesus in Romans 1:4, “the Son of David, according to the flesh, and was declared Son of God by the Spirit of holiness.” Unlike at the moment of Resurrection for Paul, or at Baptism for Mark, for Matthew, Jesus’ designation as God’s Son occurred at the moment of Conception.

Once pregnant, Matthew goes on to tell of the angelic annunciation to Joseph. This, too, would have deep meaning to Jews – angels appeared to Abraham and Sarah, to Isaac’s son Joseph, etc. Matthew expertly conveyed the meaning of Jesus as the Son of God, the Jewish prophecy fulfilled.

The setting for Jesus’ birth was Bethlehem. For Matthew, there was no journey from Nazareth as we’ll find in Luke. There is no stable, no manger, etc. It is simply assumed that Mary and Joseph live there. Matthew next introduces us to the events of Herod, the guiding star, and the wise men from the east. There is so much symbology to these events when you move past the literalness. Herod and the massacre of the male babies would surely bring to mind the Jewish past. They would have understood the importance by the comparison to Pharaoh and Moses. It’s as if Matthew was saying, ‘you know how important Moses is to the Jewish people? Jesus is even greater – even more important!” The guiding star is reminiscent of Isaiah – “I will give You as a light to the Gentiles,” “Arise, shine; for Your light has come,” and “…nations shall come to Your light and kings to the brightness of Your rising…” The rising light, for Matthew, becomes a guiding star. The star guides the kings of the east. And the kings bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Who were the men of the east? Pagans. Even the pagans of the east would recognize Jesus as King and would worship Him. Jesus as the shining light that guides us to God is just as real for us today as it was for the men and women of old!

Finally, Matthew brings us to the exodus to, and return from, Egypt. This, too, would resonate with the Jews of the time. It speaks of the ancient Scripture, and the exodus of the people from Egypt into freedom. There is no historical record of an actual massacre at of children during Herod’s reign. But the story clearly demonstrates the journey into darkness and slavery we have all traveled, and it demonstrates the journey into light and the freedom that is found in Christ.

Matthew’s work was not meant to be literal, or even historically accurate. It was meant to inspire faith. He had come to know God, and to know Jesus as the Son of God on such a deep and profound level that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write of that experience so that others would know Him, too. That’s what is meant by Gospel – the Good News. He wrote to demonstrate the Good News – that fulfillment of all hopes, dreams, and expectations can be found through Jesus.

Closing Thoughts

A few nights ago I awoke from a deep sleep at 1:00AM with all of the symbology running through my head. And, as I normally do when things like this occur, I wrote down my thoughts. What came to me is the star represents Jesus, our light in the darkness, shining brightly and pointing the way to God. The magi, known as the three kings or the wise men, remind us that Jesus was and is the Messiah of the world – Jew and Gentile alike.

Even if the stories Matthew wrote aren’t literal, they are filled with deep meaning. Meaning that was as real 2000 years ago as it is today. In two short chapters, Matthew was able to explain the deep, profound experience and relationship with God that he found through Jesus. It was a real experience, and a real relationship; and that same experience and relationship is available to us today. Matthew’s words are timeless. And, like Matthew, our entire relationship is one of faith. We can’t see God, but we know He’s there. We can’t touch Jesus, but we know He’s with us. We can’t see the Holy Spirit, but we know He guides us. As our quote says, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

As we get closer and closer to Christmas, I invite you to read Matthew, Chapters 1 & 2. As you do, keep in mind the history and the time in which the words were written. There is so much more there than what the literal words convey. Find in Matthew’s words the testimony of a living faith. Embrace that deep, abiding, living faith for yourself. And enter into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God through His Son, whose wondrous birth we celebrate.

Acknowledgments

*Retired Episcopal Bishop & Author, John Shelby Spong – Born of a Woman

Scripture

Matthew 5:17, 23:13, 23:27
Matthew Chapters 1 & 2
Isaiah (Various)

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Through the Eyes of Matthew – Quote

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceThrough the Eyes of Matthew – Introduction

Continuing our examination of Jesus’ birth, this week we’ll look Through the Eyes of Matthew.

Spiritual Quote

Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. You can’t see the future, yet you know it will come; you can’t see the air, yet you continue to breathe.
~ Claire London

Planned Scripture

Working…..

Join Us

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We Are A Community Of Spiritual Growth And Healing Where Everyone Is Welcome!

 

Through the Eyes of Mark – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceThrough The Eyes of Mark – Introduction

For time immemorial religious beliefs have been based on faith. It’s just as true today as it was 2000 years ago when the first Christians began proclaiming the Gospel. Perhaps even more so because we’re 2000 years rather than mere decades away from the events that shaped and formed the Christian faith. As we approach Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we’ll take a look at what it was like for the first Christians by examining Jesus and His divinity, looking through the eyes of the various writers of the New Testament. We’ll begin by looking Through the Eyes of Mark – the first Gospel writer.

Spiritual Quote

Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to.
~From the movie, “Miracle On 34th Street”

Thoughts

When we think of Christmas and Jesus’ birth, we automatically think of a manger, a guiding start, three wise men, and angels singing. Over 2000 years we’ve become so far removed from the actual events that we often lose sight of what it must have been like for the early evangelists trying to spread the Gospel. Not the Gospels, as we have them in Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, but “the Gospel” – which literally means “the Good News.”

The stories of Jesus birth as related in Matthew and Luke are so familiar and have so shaped our thoughts that we forget that others came first. The first Gospel to be written, however, was the Gospel of Mark. But, before we can examine Jesus’ divinity Through the Eyes of Mark, we must start with Paul. Long before the Gospel of Mark was written, the first recorded words we have of Jesus’ message, the “Good News” and His divinity are found in Paul’s letters. Try to imagine what it must have been like for Paul.

Once a persecutor of the Jews, after his conversion experience he because one of the most ardent evangelists. This was before books, newspapers, television, radio, blogs, and websites. Stories, even sacred stories, were passed orally until they were written by scribes. Paul traveled, speaking of his experience, and of his inspiration. The Jews didn’t trust him, the Romans had no particular love for him, and the Gentiles had little or no understanding of Paul’s Jewish background. He needed to get the Jews to understand that Jesus was the messiah they had been waiting for, and he was trying to get the Gentiles to understand the message of love and hope that he had found through his experience with Jesus.

It’s important to remember, though, that Paul never met Jesus. He had no first-hand knowledge of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, or even Jesus’ death and resurrection. All he had to go on was what he had heard, and what he had experienced on the Damascus Road. That experience with the resurrected Jesus changed his life forever. Now, I know many people say “things like that don’t happen” or “it must have been a dream.” But, many of us have had experiences wherein we can literally see, feel, and hear loved ones who have passed on, or even very real experiences with Jesus. I have no problem believing that Paul’s experience was very, very real.

In his evangelizing, Paul never spoke of Jesus’ birth or early life. This was a subject that he either had no knowledge of or felt insignificant to his message. To Paul, there was no virgin conception, there were no angels singing, no star in the night sky pointing to the place of birth, no wise men. In fact, to our knowledge, the first words written of Jesus’ birth were written somewhere between 49 and 55 CE (Common Era), in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This was between 19 and 25 years before the first Gospel, the Gospel According to Mark, was written. In Paul’s letter, Galatians 4:4 & 5 tell us, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”* The second and final reference that Paul made was in his letter to the Romans. Chapter 1, verses 1-4 tell us, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who as to His earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”*

The words used in these verses are very telling about Paul’s concept of Jesus’ divinity. To Paul, Jesus was born of a woman, just as everyone else. There was nothing special or supernatural about the way Jesus entered the world. He was a descendent of David, though Paul doesn’t relate to us whether that line was through Joseph or Mary. It was through the Holy Spirit that God appointed Jesus His Son by His resurrection.

It seems that in Paul’s mind, Jesus was born human, a descendent of David, and it was at the time of His resurrection that He was made God’s Son. There are other letters in which Paul reiterates God being the one to “elevate” Jesus to the status of His Son*:

  • Romans 4:24 – “for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
  • Romans 6:9 – “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead…”
  • Romans 10:9 – “…believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead…”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:4 – “…he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:14 – “And if Christ has not been raised…”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:15 – “…for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead…”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:20 – “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…”
  • Philippians 2:5-9 – “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name.”
  • Colossians 1:15 – “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”

Notice that in each of these verses, Paul is plainly stating that it was God who raised Jesus. It was God who exalted Jesus. “At this moment in primitive Christianity, Paul (who died around 64 C.E.) stood as witness to a normal human birth process for Jesus. It must be noted that despite his presumption of a natural birth, he nonetheless developed a profound Christology…

For this first great Christian thinker, a nexus existed in Jesus of Nazareth in which the divine and the human had come together. He saw Jesus as God’s first creation. He found a self-emptying divinity in Jesus…”* And, since God raised and exalted Jesus, the “adoption of Jesus and all the He meant into God was the first and original form in which the sonship for Jesus was claimed by Christian people.”* For Paul, Jesus becomes God’s Son at the time of exaltation and resurrection.

Having Paul’s concept in mind is important because all indications are that the author of the Gospel of Mark was a companion of Peter, who also evangelized with Paul. Mark was most likely a scribe, and a fellow evangelist. It was Paul’s and Peter’s teachings that informed Mark. It is generally assumed that Mark’s Gospel was written somewhere between 65 and 75 C.E. Paul had written of Mark being with him in Rome (Colossians 4:10); and in Philemon 24 Paul states that Mark was one of his fellow workers. Peter also addressed him as “My son mark” in 1 Peter 5:13. So, it’s clear that Mark worked closely, and was informed by, Peter and Paul.

In all likelihood, Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome, to a Gentile audience. It was probably read aloud, as were the Torah and the ancient texts. His purpose was to encourage believers who lived under threat of persecution, and even martyrdom. And, like Paul, Mark never met, traveled with, nor heard Jesus. In a letter written by Papias, the bishop of Hieropolis in Phyrgia wrote, “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately though not indeed in order, whatever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him, but afterward, as I said, he was in company with Peter, who used to offer teaching as necessity demanded, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses. So Mark committed no error in thus writing some single points as he remembered them. For upon one thing he fixed his attention: to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.”**

Another early church father, Clement, wrote, “As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered well what he said, should write them out.

And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly hindered nor encouraged it.”**

Like us today, Mark’s story is a story of great faith, meant to inspire and encourage believers. The letters clearly indicate that Mark never met Jesus. And, they indicate he recorded everything he had heard and left nothing out. So, it stands to reason that Mark, like Paul, had no concept of Jesus’ birth. His birth was not something discussed, at least not in his presence, and there was nothing special or miraculous about it. Mark 3:21 tells us, “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”” This would hardly indicate that Mark had heard stories of Mary being a virgin, or that Jesus was the Son of God from the time of the conception.

So, Through the Eyes of Mark, when did Jesus’ divinity come about? It’s clear in Chapter 1, verse 1 that Mark understood Jesus as the Son of God – “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He goes on to tell the story of John the Baptist, tying him back to ancient Scripture that the Jews would have understood. The way we read our Bibles today, the statement in verse 2 and 3 can sound like one single prophecy from the ancient Scriptures. However, what appears to us as a single statement foretelling John the Baptist is actually two separate texts blended together. Verse 2 tells us, “…Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.” This text was from Malachi 3:1. Verse 3 goes on to say, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'” This text is not from Malachi, but from Isaiah 40:3.

Mark continues to tell of John’s preaching and baptizing and, in verse 9 he tells of Jesus’ baptism. This, it seems to Mark, is the critical point. In verse 10 he writes, “And immediately coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Keep in mind that this description may be a symbolic, descriptive metaphor used to explain the immense power and experience found through Christ; and to further illustrate the conviction that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God. The Layman’s Bible Commentary puts it this way, “What had Jesus seen and heard before he announced with authority, “The time is fulfilled”? What had enabled Him to know that the period of preparation had been completed, that God had come to the point of fulfilling the promise which He had earlier given His people? We may not know the complete answers to such questions, but we can see what Mark believed was essential to that answer. God’ pledge, given to Israel in the prophets, had at last been redeemed. He had sent Elijah again to His people (John the Baptizer) with an authority direct from heaven. In the baptism of repentance which this Elijah had preached, in the forgiveness of sins which accompanied the contrition and baptism of Israel, God had given an authentic sign that the time of waiting was over. The work of John the Baptizer, embodied in the contrition, baptism, and forgiveness of God’s Israel, had marked the end of the epoch which God had ordained as preparation. This epoch had now given way to a new epoch in which God had sent His Spirit, baptizing His people with the powers of the coming Kingdom. Jesus had seen and heard the descent of this very Spirit, a sign to Him that had enabled Him to proclaim with confidence: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” This sign had been disclosed when He had accepted the baptism proclaimed by John with divine authority. Then Jesus had seen the heavens opened. He had been granted a vision of those heights and depths of reality where God’s invisible deeds were already shaping the later course of earthly events. From the opened heavens He had seen God’s Spirit descending – sign of the accomplishment on earth of what God had already initiated in heaven. God’s Kingdom at that very moment had invaded earth’s territory. The Spirit descended on Jesus Himself, a clear token of His own appointment as one through whom the powers of the Kingdom of God operate. Henceforth He must speak and act out of this mysterious authority from heaven communicated by the Spirit and indicative of God’s intention to share His favor and His grace with men. The Kingdom was at hand because God’s Spirit had appeared with power among men.”

This, for Mark, was the essence of Jesus being God’s Son. For him, Jesus was born like any other human being. But, unlike Paul who seemed to believe that God elevated Jesus to the status of Son at the resurrection, Mark seemed to wish to convey the activity of the Holy Spirit and the importance of baptism. Why? And, what does it have to do with us, especially at Christmas?

Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of our Lord. But more than that, we celebrate all that we find in Him and through our relationship with Him. Let me share some excerpts from a sermon by Dr. Keith Wagner:

“…I believe that John the Baptist can help us. He announced to the people of his time that the Christ would be coming soon. “The one who is more powerful than I, is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” John announced that Jesus was coming but he also acknowledged that he was but a servant of God. For the spirit of God to become real to us we must be willing to humble ourselves and accept the fact that Jesus is greater than ourselves.

John was preaching to a people who were powerless because of an oppressive Roman government. His listeners had no hope, no reason to believe that their lives had any meaning. When John announced that the Lord would be coming, he also said that his listeners would be baptized by the Holy Spirit. In other words, their lives would become filled with the Spirit of God and they would be transformed from people without hope to people with hope…

The Spirit of God cannot enter our souls until we are willing to humble ourselves and learn that we are mere mortals, in need of a powerful and eternal God…But we may have to be in a real low point in our lives before God can get through to us.

Secondly, John tells his listeners to get ready. Their lives would change; they would become more faithful, more loving and more hopeful. The opportunity for change was close at hand. To take advantage of that opportunity they had to trust in John’s word. He was God’s messenger, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” In addition to humbling themselves they needed to listen…

Third, our lives are open to the Spirit of God when we are willing to change. John’s message was about repentance. Repentance means there is a change of direction. Take for example Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, by Dickens. He was a stingy, grumpy, mean spirited man whose life was changed after being confronted by the ghosts of the past, present and future. When he saw how hopeless his life turned out he was transformed and became generous and filled with a spirit of love.

A more contemporary story would be the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. The Grinch was totally transformed, his heart growing 3 sizes greater. After being baptized by the spirit he became, kind, warm and generous and returned Christmas to the Whos in Whoville.

I believe that everyone wants to change but we are stuck. We are trapped by our sins of the past or we are distant from God pursuing our own personal agenda. As a result we are never fulfilled or satisfied. Life is nothing more than a treadmill with no way of getting off. The key that can unlock the door to newness and guide us from darkness to light is forgiveness. John proclaimed a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness enables us to move away from the past and embrace the present.

The transformation of the Grinch and Scrooge are classics. In both stories their worlds became a better place. But in both stories there is one story that doesn’t get as much attention. It’s the fact that the Who’s forgave the Grinch and the townspeople and relatives of Scrooge in London forgave him. Forgiveness, like John the Baptist proclaimed, is at the heart of opening ourselves to God’s spirit. The Christmas spirit can become a reality to you when you accept the forgiveness of God for your past, or you are willing to forgive someone else for theirs.”***

Closing Thoughts

This was Mark’s message – proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. The prevailing wisdom of the time told the early followers of The Way that they were wrong, that they were crazy. The were persecuted and martyred. Yet, despite this prevailing wisdom, they believed. Like the early Christians, many today call us crazy. But Mark’s words give us hope, and inspire us to change, and encourage us to forgive.

His words were meant to inspire those of his time who faced persecution and martyrdom. But his words also serve to encourage us today. That is the fullness of life that we find in our relationship with Jesus as our Lord. It is through that faith, and through our relationship with Jesus that the Holy Spirit operates in our lives.  It is that faith, that hope, that forgiveness, made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit, that we celebrate when we celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Scripture

  • Galatians 4:4&5
  • Romans 1:1-4, 4:24, 6:9, 10:9
  • 1 Corinthians 15:4, 15:14, 15:15, 15:20
  • Colossians 4:10
  • Philemon 24
  • 1 Peter 5:13
  • Mark 3:21, 1:1-3

Acknwledgements

*Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong, Author – Born of a Woman

**Dr. Keith Wagner

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Through the Eyes of Mark – Quote

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceThrough the Eyes of Mark – Introduction

For time immemorial religious beliefs have been based on faith. It’s just as true today as it was 2000 years ago when the first Christians began proclaiming the Gospel. Perhaps even more so because we’re 2000 years rather than mere decades away from the events that shaped and formed the Christian faith. As we approach Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we’ll take a look at what it was like for the first Christians by examining Jesus and His divinity, looking through the eyes of the various writers of the New Testament. We’ll begin by looking Through the Eyes of Mark – the first Gospel writer.

Spiritual Quote

“Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to.”
~From the movie, “Miracle On 34th Street”

Planned Scripture

Galatians 4:4&5
Romans 1:1-4, 4:24, 6:9, 10:9
1 Corinthians 15:4, 15:14, 15:15, 15:20
Colossians 4:10
Philemon 24
1 Peter 5:13
Mark 3:21, Mark 1:1-3

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Christmas Memories – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceChristmas Memories – Introduction

Christmas – a time filled with memories. Some memories are wonderful and some, not so much. Regardless of past Christmas memories, perhaps this year we can use Christmas to create new and even more beautiful memories. In order to do that, we must start by examining why we celebrate Christmas at all.

Spiritual Quote

“Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.”
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theologian

Thoughts

Once again we’ve entered the Christmas season. For some, it’s a time a time of aggravation and even sadness; for others, it’s a time of great joy. Some are filled with the Christmas Spirit; others just can’t seem to get in the mood and, frankly, they wish the whole thing would just go away.

I understand why Christmas may be a time of aggravation or sadness for some. Losses of loved ones and being separated from family can create a sense of loneliness, sadness, and isolation. Unemployment and homelessness take their toll on one’s self-worth, which can be compounded during the Christmas holiday season. I’ve been there. Many years ago, I was laid off just a couple of days before Christmas. When my parents moved to other states, we never again had the opportunity to be together at Christmas. My son has been deployed in Iraq at Christmas more than once. One of my grandfathers, my first husband, and my dad all died around Christmas. Perhaps some of you have unpleasant memories about Christmas past, too.

At the same time, Christmas is a time filled with wonderful memories. I remember the wreath made out of construction paper and spray-on snow that I made in grade school for my grandmother. Looking back through adult eyes, it was pretty hideous. But, grandma didn’t care. She proudly hung that wreath in the entryway at her front door for over 20 years. I remember the family gatherings making Swedish Potatiskorv (potato sausage). And how we gathered every Christmas Eve for a dinner of Korv and Lutefisk (a Norwegian fish); and again Christmas morning for gifts and a Scandinavian breakfast of Korv and Aebelskivers (Danish pancakes). I remember the red Frangipani candles and walking the neighborhoods looking at all the lights. The sights, smells, and sounds of Christmas bring back vivid memories that bring me much joy. Many of you have memories just as important, just as vivid.

Those early memories are very special. But notice something about them. Notice I didn’t mention anything about church. My family wasn’t very religious, and we never went to church. Though we talked about the birth of Christ, and sang carols like Silent Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem, Christmas had little or no religious significance. We talked about believing in God, and in Jesus – but it was very much in the abstract. None of us had a real relationship with God, or His Son. That came much later for me. Perhaps many of you have had a similar Christmas experiences.

And, for some, Christmas past may hold no special meaning. Perhaps your family didn’t celebrate Christmas. Perhaps you grew up in a different faith, or with no faith at all, and Christmas was just another day. And, because of this, you might have felt left out while your friends celebrated all around you. But, now you’re here, and you’re building new memories to carry with you into your future.

This weekend marked the official beginning of the Christmas season, kicked off on Black Friday – the official beginning of Christmas mania. For weeks, newspapers and television commercials have been pushing the latest and greatest – toys, games, cars, tools, clothes. And they all carry the same message – spend, spend, spend! You can’t possibly be happy unless you’re driving a shiny new car, or wearing the latest fashions, or playing with the coolest new toy or game. The only way to show your friends and family how much you love them is by spending a fortune. And now, finally, the time is here! Many of us will fall right into the shopping frenzy, and some won’t. But the season is also filled with many other activities. Before we can shop, we must write the lists. Then there’s the meal planning, and the shopping to go with it. There are Christmas cards to buy; but then they have to be written, addressed, and mailed. And, then there’s the decorating, putting up the tree, hanging the lights, and attending various festivities.

By the time Christmas actually gets here, many of us will be almost too exhausted, and broke, to enjoy it!

His Gift to Us – And Ours to Him

Maybe it’s time we take a look at why we celebrate. For Christians, this is supposed to be the time we celebrate our Lord’s birth. We celebrate God becoming fully human in the form of Jesus. Why? To save us from sin – to save us from ourselves and from our own self-destructive behavior. To save us from our selfishness, and our greed. And to fill us with love – love of God and of each other. His purpose was, and is, to save us from ourselves and to fill our hearts with love.

The ‘world’s’ concept of Christmas does little to foster love. Think of all the advertising that goes into Black Friday. Think of the attitudes of anger over having to have that item, driving people into frenzies – even to the point of shooting each other over a toy! Think of the feelings of inadequacy, failure, greed, and envy that arise when we can’t afford to buy certain gifts. God’s gift and His purpose was not sadness, inadequacy, failure, greed, or envy. His gift and purpose was love. Shooting someone over getting the last toy on the shelf hardly demonstrates anything remotely related to the meaning of Christmas.

God gave us the best gift we could ever receive – His Son. In the only Scripture I’m going to reference today, 1 John 4:9 tells us, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.” At Christmas, we celebrate Jesus’ birth, and His gift.

Now, it’s customary in our society to give gifts to someone on their birthday. But, our exchanging gifts with each other doesn’t really celebrate Him, does it? So I ask, what gift do we give to Jesus on His birthday?

I came across this poem, and it really brings the point home:

“When Jesus called that Christmas week I wasn’t at my best;

And the house was much too cluttered to entertain a guest.

He seemed to notice everything, the cards still unaddressed,

The gifts piled high awaiting wraps, the baking and the rest.

His eyes fell on the evergreen and the presents ‘neath the tree,

‘It’s My birthday that you celebrate–what are you giving Me?’

‘What am I giving Him?’ I thought; ashamed no words I found.

So many costly things I’d bought, He looked at me and frowned.

I prayed He’d let the question pass, but when He did persist,

I blurted out the truth at last, you were not on my list.”  Louise Teisberg

Have we put Jesus on our list? We spend so much time, money, and effort into buying gifts for friends and family, decorating, etc. But, what about Jesus? It’s His birthday, after all. What special gift have we for Him?

When our hearts are filled with His love, we naturally share that love with others; giving to others from the fullness of our hearts. We celebrate the meaning by freely giving of ourselves. The key, though, is to give of what we are able. We don’t need to go into debt trying to buy the love of others. Some may give food to a shelter. Some may give of their time, helping those in need. For some it may be hosting a gathering of friends and family. Others may take the time to send Christmas cards to troops overseas, or to wounded veterans.

The ‘what’ isn’t really the point – the point is ‘why.’

Don’t exchange gifts out of a sense of obligation; exchange gifts, only if you are able, and from a place of love. Don’t decorate your house because you’re trying to live up to the expectations of others, or to out-do your neighbors; decorate because it brings you, and others, joy. And, if money is tight and all you can afford are the simplest of decorations, rejoice in their simplicity – think Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree. If you have time, volunteer at the Food Bank, or at a soup kitchen. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you do whatever you do out of love. That was Jesus’ message. That was His gift to us. And it is that gift that we can give to each other, and to others. Oh, and lest we forget, remember to give yourself a healthy dose of His love, too.

Closing Thoughts

Especially at Christmas, many people place a great value on what the gifts. The bigger, brighter, and more expensive, the more value is placed on it. And many of us feel as if we must live up to this commercialized concept of Christmas that is filled with greed and envy. But, remember, things don’t last. That new car will be old one day. That new gadget will be replaced by yet a newer one next year. The greater value is the love in which the gift, no matter what it is, is given. Whether it be that new toy or gadget, or simply the gift of time or helping others – it’s the act of love that will be remembered and valued. This is, to me, the very point of Mr. Bonhoeffer’s quote. The ‘world’ values tangible things – the newer, bigger, brighter, and more costly the better. And it places very little value on things of the Spirit. But it is precisely those things of the Spirit that will outlast all the toys and gadgets. And it’s the things of the Spirit from which memories are made.

Christmas has been, is, and will always be, my favorite time of year. And, now that I have come into my faith, it carries with it a much deeper meaning.

Have I had times of sadness at Christmas? Yes. Has Christmas been a time of joy? Yes. We all have Christmas Memories that are joyful, and some not so joyful. What we choose to focus on, however, is up to us.

Honestly, of all the Christmas gifts I’ve received over the last 50+ years, I can count on less than one hand the number of them that I can name. What do I remember? The gifts of love. Those gifts outshine and outlast all others. And they lift me above the pain of loss that I’ve felt.

As I mentioned, my first husband, Ron, died at Christmas. But, while he was alive he shared a beautiful Christmas story of absolute and unconditional love called Teddy Bear Blue. The story reminds us of the absolute and unconditional love that we have from God, through His Son; and it was tradition that his mother read the story at Christmas all through his childhood. When Ron and I got together, she recorded herself reading it, and sent it to us; and we played it for my children. Ron is gone, but he, and his mother’s love, live on through that story. We still listen to that story every year at Christmas, and now my daughter plays if for her children.

I lost my dad at Christmas, and yes, I miss him terribly. But more than any gifts he ever bought us, I remember his love. I remember how we would gathering in the living room with Dad sitting in his chair, shaking a set of jingle bells, and exclaiming, “Ho, Ho Ho” like a big, burly Santa Claus as he passed out gifts.

My grandma and my mom are both gone. But, I remember the simplicity of my grandmother’s complete and unconditional love demonstrated each year by hanging that awful yet, in her eyes, beautiful, giant construction-paper wreath. I remember my mother’s love for family every year when we make potatiskorv and aebelskivers (yes, mine are now vegan versions); and when I decorate the house using many of her favorite decorations, a lot of which she had made.

As I was writing for today, all of this remembering got me thinking…There’s a moment in the movie Courageous when a pastor asks a man grieving the loss of his daughter whether he wants to spend his life remembering the beautiful time he shared with his daughter, or to spend it being angry with God. The same basic question holds true when it comes to celebrating Christmas. Maybe we’ve experienced sadness or loss. Maybe we have unpleasant memories around Christmas. Maybe we don’t have any Christmas Memories at all. The choice is still ours to make. Are we going to focus on those things? Or, are we going to focus on why it is we celebrate in the first place, and in the process, build newer and happier Christmas Memories to take with us into our future?

I invite you to accept the greatest gift you could ever receive – the gift of God’s love, given through His Son, Jesus. And I invite you to celebrate Jesus’ birth, and to give Him the gift of sharing His love freely with others in whatever way you are able; in the process, creating new and wonderful Christmas Memories for yourself and for others. His love is the greatest gift you will ever receive, and the greatest gift you will ever share.

Scripture

1 John 4:9

Acknowledgements:

Edward F. Markquart/SermonsFromSeattle

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