Come and See

The images still haunt us. A healthy, young, 24-year-old athlete lay dead on the football field. Players who surrounded him were weeping. An ambulance drove across the grass as an athletic trainer performed CPR for nearly 10 minutes. An AED was used to shock the young man’s heart back into life. Oxygen was administered. When he was finally stabilized enough for transport, he was taken to the ICU of the nearest hospital, which happened to be only two miles away. Today, Damar Hamlin is recovering and making tremendous strides. He is breathing on his own and talking. Thanks be to God!

This morning I read a thread on Twitter from a hospital chaplain asking that people not label this as a “miracle.” His reasoning is that by labeling everyday medical procedures as miracles “we end up with people who deny its legitimacy.” A doctor retweeted it and gave a lengthy explanation of all the step-by-step medical science that was the reason for Hamlin’s recovery, calling each step a miracle. I have to say I’m with the doc on this one. The doctor saw what the chaplain couldn’t. God was with Hamlin every step of the way. Life after death is a miracle. I don’t care what avenues of medical science God uses … he is still the author of all life who performs miracles every day. Who’s with me on this?

Today’s lectionary passage is all about people seeing for themselves. Jesus invites us all to “come and see.”

John 1 (The Message)

29-31 The very next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and yelled out, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world! This is the man I’ve been talking about, ‘the One who comes after me but is really ahead of me.’ I knew nothing about who he was—only this: that my task has been to get Israel ready to recognize him as the God-Revealer. That is why I came here baptizing with water, giving you a good bath and scrubbing sins from your life so you can get a fresh start with God.”

32-34 John clinched his witness with this: “I watched the Spirit, like a dove flying down out of the sky, making himself at home in him. I repeat, I know nothing about him except this: The One who authorized me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One on whom you see the Spirit come down and stay, this One will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ That’s exactly what I saw happen, and I’m telling you, there’s no question about it: This is the Son of God.”

Come, See for Yourself

35-36 The next day John was back at his post with two disciples, who were watching. He looked up, saw Jesus walking nearby, and said, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.”

37-38 The two disciples heard him and went after Jesus. Jesus looked over his shoulder and said to them, “What are you after?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 He replied, “Come along and see for yourself.”

I believe miracles are happening all around us every day. From the profound to the ordinary, God is present. Here is an example from the mundane: my husband and I drove 12 hours on I-95 through four states a few days ago and never once slowed down. If you’ve ever driven that route, you know that was a miracle!

They came, saw where he was living, and ended up staying with him for the day. It was late afternoon when this happened.

40-42 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard John’s witness and followed Jesus. The first thing he did after finding where Jesus lived was find his own brother, Simon, telling him, “We’ve found the Messiah” (that is, “Christ”). He immediately led him to Jesus.

Jesus took one look up and said, “You’re John’s son, Simon? From now on your name is Cephas” (or Peter, which means “Rock”).

Finding the Messiah in the ordinary is miraculous. Receiving grace and compassion from a stranger is a miracle. God sending his son to forgive the sins of the world was the best miracle of all. You have the opportunity to come and see this Passover Lamb for yourself and then invite others.

Come and see!

The Power of Prayer photo by the New York Times via Facebook

Arise

Raise your hand if you are a Wordle fan. I love word games and puzzles so this online game from the New York Times is right up my alley. It is a five-letter word game where you have six tries to get the correct word. Letters in the right place turn green; letters that are somewhere in the puzzle but not in the right place turn yellow, and incorrect letters are gray.

People have come up with starting words that use popular letters, such as adieu. A while ago I was using either weary or teary as my first guess since they have common vowels that might be in the word. One day I was listening to NPR, and I heard the New York Times puzzle master, Will Shorts, say that he starts with either arise or arose.

So now, depending on the kind of day I am having, I start with either weary or arise. My mood dictates my choice, and obviously I am having a good day when I choose arise.

On this Epiphany Day, we revisit Isaiah’s beautiful passage on the regathering of the nation of Israel after the Redeemer conquered all opposition and called the people back home. They have been living in the darkness of the diaspora and have longed to return. Now, the gloom has been lifted and God has not only shone his light on them but enables them to be a light to the surrounding nations.

No one can ignore this dawning radiance.

Isaiah 60 (Common English Bible)

Arise! Shine! Your light has come;
    the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.
Though darkness covers the earth
    and gloom the nations,
    the Lord will shine upon you;
    God’s glory will appear over you.
Nations will come to your light
    and kings to your dawning radiance.

Our New Testament lenses read Christ all through this passage. Christ is the light that has come and will come again. Christ is the radiance that obliterates the darkness of our sins, burdens, addictions, estrangements, and sorrows. Christ even obliterates the darkness of death. He invites us to lift up our eyes and see our own reflected radiance in his presence.

Lift up your eyes and look all around:
    they are all gathered; they have come to you.
Your sons will come from far away,
    and your daughters on caregivers’ hips.
Then you will see and be radiant;
    your heart will tremble and open wide,
    because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you;
    the nations’ wealth will come to you.
Countless camels will cover your land,
    young camels from Midian and Ephah.
They will all come from Sheba,
    carrying gold and incense,
    proclaiming the Lord’s praises.

This is such a beautiful foretelling of the Second Coming as well. When Jesus returns, the nations will gather in Israel and bask in the glow of his light. The glory of God will appear over the earth and every knee will bow in its radiance.

On this Epiphany Day, God invites us to arise and turn away from the darkness to walk in the light of Christ and invite others to walk along with us. We have but one job to do today. Lift up your eyes! Look all around! Then you will see and be radiant.

Shine on!

Your Light Has Come by Michelle Robertson

Supernova

“Whatever it was, it is significant that God met them in their own medium.”

This powerful quote from David Guzik’s “Enduring Word” commentary on Matthew 2 caught my breath away. I do a fair amount of commentary reading on each scripture that I am studying and sometimes a single beautiful sentence will take my thinking into a different place.

So, let’s back up and unpack this.

We are in that familiar place in the post-nativity drama where King Herod had just discovered that Jesus was born. In his anxious paranoia, he immediately set out to destroy anyone who might challenge his fragile grip on his throne. The scriptures record that he was frightened, and his fear of this usurper baby spread throughout his minions and his city.

Enter the magi, which is translated to astronomer or philosopher. These men studied the skies, the stars, the planets, and the ancient astrological predictions. They realized that a king had been born to the Jews. Not kings themselves, these curious scientists traveled many miles following Christ’s star to Bethlehem:

Matthew 2 (Common English Bible)

2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi from the east came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star in the east and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him, and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah,
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

The Jewish scholars confirmed what the Eastern astronomers knew: something astronomical had happened and it needed to be seen. When the magi reached the place where the Epiphany star rested over Bethlehem they were overwhelmed with joy.

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out, and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen in the east, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,  they were overwhelmed with joy. 

Let us stop here for a moment as well.

The magi were gentiles. They were not Jews who had anticipated the Messiah’s arrival for generations. They were stargazers, and planet-watchers … in other words, men of learning and science. Religion paid no part in their quest; they were drawn by the appearance of a spectacular vision in the heavens and their curiosity drove them to find answers. Or, as Guzik states, “Whatever it was, it is significant that God met them in their own medium.” Planets, stars, imploding new universes, supernovas … whatever that “star”was, God chose their medium to communicate the birth of his son to them. He spoke to them from the star, knowing that they were looking at the skies.

God always speaks to us in our own medium. He uses people, situations, events, callings, tragedies, blessings, joy, etc. to speak his language of love and hope into our lives.

Are you listening?

11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

God also speaks words of warning into our lives when we are headed in the wrong direction. How hard he works to keep us going in the right direction! How disappointed he must be when we continue to go our own way, despite his warnings.

God invites us to look around today and discover where he is speaking to us. And then we are invited to follow.

That’s what wise people do.

This image is dominated by NGC 7469, a luminous, face-on spiral galaxy approximately 90 000 light-years in diameter that lies roughly 220 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Pegasus. Its companion galaxy IC 5283 is partly visible in the lower left portion of this image. This spiral galaxy has recently been studied as part of the Great Observatories All-sky LIRGs Survey (GOALS) Early Release Science program with the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, which aims to study the physics of space. Photo credit to the James Webb Space Facebook page.

Seeing Was Believing

Hearing the Christmas story read from the Gospel According to Luke is essential to the celebration, in my opinion. Matthew also records the events, but not in the lush detail that Luke used. And if your earliest memory of this passage comes from Charlie Brown, it was Luke that Linus read as he stood on the school stage. It resonates. It reveals. It will preach.

Because the passage is so familiar, I wondered what it would sound like in an unusual translation. Typically, we hear some variety of New Revised Standard, New International Version, New King James, or the original King James. As you know, I advocate for reading several translations of a passage to fill in gaps of nuance and meaning.

I realized that I had never read it in the Message, which I appreciate for its use of contemporary dialect. I eschew The Message for traditional writings (like the Psalms) so I thought I would see if there are any undiscovered nuggets in Luke 2. Peterson did not disappoint.

Luke 2 (The Message)

1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

As I read the word “hostel” I immediately thought of the word “hostile”. Indeed, Christ was born into a hostile world. Born of unwed parents in a society that would instantly reject them, born to save a world that would basically ignore his gift, born in a government system that oppressed and persecuted his people, Jesus was born in a hostile, if not a hostel.

An Event for Everyone

8-12 There were shepherds camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

An event for everyone! Be mindful that “everyone” includes the people who don’t look, act, think, or live like you. Everyone, worldwide.

13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the shepherds talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the shepherds were impressed.

Seeing was believing.

This is why it is imperative for modern day Christ followers to live out the Gospel in their behaviors, attitudes, and deeds. How can we hope that people will see Jesus if not in what we do and say? How can we expect the good news to spread if we don’t live it out in front of people? When we cut people off on the highway in our BMWs with the ichthus icon on the trunk, giving them the finger when they honk in protest, do we really think that Christ will be seen and believed in this life? You’re the ONLY Jesus some people will ever see. Act like it.

19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The shepherds returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

As we roll into this new year, may we be like Mary and keep Jesus’ teachings dear and deep within us. And then may we be like the shepherds and let loose, praising God for everything!

My prayer for you today is that you have a deep, meaningful, and life-changing 2023.

Believing is seeing. Go, and tell!

Merry Christmas by Michelle Robertson

Get Up

A round of some type of viral respiratory infection that rolled straight into a sinus infection rendered me “Sleepless in Colington” last month. The minute I put my head on the pillow every night, that annoying tickle-cough-draining-into-my-chest thing seized me and kept me awake. Both my husband and the dog fled to the guest room for over a week, waiting it out.

If you’ve dealt with that kind of thing, or have a newborn in the house, or are kept awake at night with anxiety and fears that become larger at night, you know how begin sleep-deprived can rob you of all your critical thinking skills, cognitive powers, and even your ability to be polite. My head was mush for over two weeks and nothing got done … and the things that got done were poorly. My get up and go got up and left.

As we have finally rounded the corner past Christmas and are heading into the new year, we have a moment to focus on Joseph. We remember him for many things. We remember his humility in receiving an unwed pregnant girl into his keeping when he could have easily dismissed Mary. We remember his sacrifice of reputation and freedom. We see his struggle to provide shelter for his newborn son and new wife. We admire his quiet and steadfast faith.

And we are amazed at his ability to think fast on his feet in the middle of the night when his sleep was interrupted. God appeared to him in a dream with the command, “Get up.”

Matthew 2 (Common English Bible)

13 When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” 14 Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt.

I always wonder what happened to this little family during the Egypt years. As immigrants, they surely had a hard time finding shelter and work to sustain them. They lived under the threat of a tyrant who was hell-bent on killing their child. This awful man had no problem killing all the children in Bethlehem in hopes of eliminating Jesus. The fear and disorientation for these young parents must have been overwhelming.

Murder of the Bethlehem children

16 When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. 17 This fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet:

18 A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and much grieving.
        Rachel weeping for her children,
            and she did not want to be comforted,
                because they were no more.

And finally, when King Herod died, Joseph is awakened in the middle of another night and told to “Get up” again:

19 After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up,” the angel said, “and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” 21 Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 

Joseph was a sharp and quick thinker. He followed God’s instructions and allowed the Holy Spirit to guide him along the way. A third night of sleep was disrupted, and the angel sent them to Galilee to keep Jesus and Mary safe.

22 But when he heard that Archelaus ruled over Judea in place of his father Herod, Joseph was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he went to the area of Galilee. 23 He settled in a city called Nazareth so that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled: He will be called a Nazarene.

This makes me wonder what God is telling me to “Get up” and do. Am I sleepwalking through my faith? Am I mush-headed and missing cues around me that the Holy Spirit is trying to guide me toward?

Are you?

Let us agree to be like Joseph and get up and go when called and sent by the Lord. I pray for clarity of direction for all of us.

Get up!

Bleak Midwinter by Michelle Robertson

Happy Boxing Day!

The day after Christmas is known as Boxing Day in the British Commonwealth. It is said to originate from two different sources. One legend says that Boxing Day was a day when the servants of Lords received a box of small gifts and Christmas dinner leftovers. They were given the day off to travel to their homes with said boxes. Another tradition suggests that it is a reference to the Feast of St. Stephen, whose feast day falls on December 26th. Stephen was one of the men selected in the Book of Acts to ensure that the distribution of alms was done equitably, including the Greek widows who were being neglected. On the Feast of St. Stephen, clergymen take the alms that were dropped in boxes at the church on Christmas Day and deliver them to the poor in the village.

In both cases, Boxing Day is a celebration of offering charity to the marginalized.

What a lovely reminder as we bridge Christmas and New Year’s Day. Those who have received much are invited to give much.

Luke 14 (The Message)

12-14 Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned! —at the resurrection of God’s people.”

In this parable, Jesus seems to speak right into the type of Christmas that many of us experienced. We gave to our friends. We supped with our family. We received riches. We offered things to people who are able to offer things back.

But the way to be a blessing on Boxing Day is to box something up and give it to someone who had a scant or non-existent Christmas.

Your community has homeless people living in it. Your community has families who rely on assistance to make the most meager ends meet. There is need where you live.

What will you do on this Boxing Day?

God calls us to share what we have. Dig deep. Open up your eyes, your heart, and your wallet. Christmastide has only just begun, and it is always better to give than to receive. And this kind of favor is returned at the resurrection. You get to be a blessing today, and you will be blessed by your giving. 

Happy Boxing Day! 

Better to Give by Becca Ziegler

David’s Psalm

Today’s writing is a real treat. My friend David Jones is a retired United Methodist pastor in the North Georgia conference, my home base. He is an excellent communicator of the Gospel, and I know you will love this story that I am sharing with his permission. Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

“This is my favorite Christmas story. A true and personal story. Christmas Eve 10 years ago I was the pastor of Glenn Memorial UMC on the Emory University campus. Between our 2 services I walked over to Emory Hospital to visit Ted and Cindy Runyon, long-time members at Glenn.

The hospital was quiet, as I’ve always found hospitals to be on Christmas Eve. The only people in a hospital on Christmas Eve are the staff and the patients who absolutely have to be there. Ted had to be there. He’d had emergency open heart surgery the day before.

When Cindy and I walked into Ted’s room in the ICU a nurse was checking Ted’s vital signs. Then he walked across the room and started writing on Ted’s chart.

Cindy and I stood by Ted’s bed for a brief visit. While it’s always difficult to leave someone in the hospital overnight it’s especially hard when they’re in Intensive Care. All the more so on Christmas Eve.

When the nurse came back over to check Ted’s monitors I said, “I hope you’ll take good care of this man. He was my teacher when I was in seminary here at Emory. Now it’s my privilege be his pastor.”

The nurse smiled. I don’t remember what he said. I do remember he said it with a Jamaican accent. Then he went back across the room and started writing on Ted’s chart again.

Ted and Cindy and I talked for a few more minutes, then I said, “Before I go I’d like for us to have a Christmas Eve prayer together.” The 3 of us held hands. As we finished the prayer and said, “Amen,” we heard another “Amen” from across the room, spoken quietly in a Jamaican accent.

I looked across the room and said, “You’re a believer.” “Yes,” the nurse said, “I am a Christian.” I said, “My name is David. What’s yours?” He said, “My name is Emmanuel. I will be here with your friend all through the night.”

At that moment the Christmas story hit me as never before. The angel said, “You shall call him ‘Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God with us.’” Every day. Every night. Wherever we are. Whatever is happening to us. In our growing and our becoming. In our rejoicing and our weeping. In our struggling and our loving. In our living and our dying. God with us.”

Oh, the wonder of it all!”

Matthew 1 (Common English Bible)

23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel.

Indeed. Oh, the wonder of it all. I pray you find your own Emmanuel tonight.

God With Us by Michelle Robertson

Just Around the Corner

The road to the little island where I live is a curvy mess right now. A two-year road improvement project is underway, and while we will all appreciate the raising of the surface that will mitigate some of our flooding issues and with wider shoulders that will protect bikes and walkers, living with the project is a challenge. We are forced down to one lane in as many as three different spots to accommodate the heavy equipment and the diligent workers. Human and mechanical stop/slow indicators are the norm now, and you never know how many you will encounter on a trip. This road is the only way off the island, so many of our conversations with neighbors sound like accounts of a great gambling adventure where we brag about not having to stop at all or only having to stop once. Having to stop three times can make you late for appointments … just ask my church Administrative Assistant, who also lives back here. When I get to the office and am late for a meeting, the first thing we do is compare our journeys.

The most challenging part isn’t even the added time it takes to complete to your journey. It is not knowing what is around the next corner. Because of the number of blind curves in the road, you can find yourself sailing along at the high speed of 35MPH only to have to slam your brakes on when you realize the cars in your lane are standing still at the stop sign, which you couldn’t see due to the curve.

That is exactly where we are in this last week of Advent. Christmas is literally around the corner, and here we sit at a stop sign waiting for the signal to change.

Some of have arrived at this stop sign in a moment of panic, realizing that we aren’t entirely ready for what is to come in less than a week. The panic shopping has begun as we search through Amazon to find what can be delivered before Sunday. The aisles of the local stores are crowded with people like us who, for whatever reason, got behind in our preparations and thought we had more time. Others choose to try to find last-minutes sales and they have waited here on purpose.

We have talked a lot this Advent about the season of waiting for the first coming as a preparation for anticipating the Second Coming. This is a particular emphasis of this lectionary cycle. Cycle A does not allow us to linger lovingly at the baby’s manger but continues to push us out of the creche to confront the reality of the Second Coming. We breeze though the nativity with a nod to its participants on the way to what lies beyond the crucifixion. We are invited to consider the end of this means.

Titus pulls us in that direction. What is hidden around the Christmas Day curve is the reason for Christ’s arrival on earth. We are reminded of the things that he purchased on the cross: forgiveness for all, salvation for all, a changed life while we wait, and the excited expectation of the Second Coming:

Titus 2 (The Message)

11-14 God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone! We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears.

While you linger in your festive living room, sitting by the lit Christmas tree and go over your plans for Christmas Day one more time, remember what he came. Jesus came to be a light in the darkness of this world, He came to conquer it and lead us to a future with hope. He came in humility but will return in glory. He was born to save souls and will return to resurrect the Body. He lived a life judged by men but will come back to judge mankind. His crucifixion will be completed with his coronation when all the world will proclaim him king.

He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness.

So be energetic in goodness as you wait. Everything we have longed for is just around the corner.

The Forest for the Trees by Mary Anne Mong

Reflecting

This morning I sat in my chair facing the harbor and read several “our family year in review” Christmas letters sent by various friends from far and wide. I love getting these! I appreciate them not only for the ability to catch up on the year’s events, but also for the effort and time they represent. As a writer, I understand the focus that is required write these one-page summaries of the year gone by. I imagine my friends sitting at their computers with fingers hovering over keys, deciding which events to include. I can hear them calling to their spouses, “honey, what month did we go to Chattanooga?” as they reflect and reconstruct a full year’s worth of life. Births, deaths, knee replacements, trips, weddings, etc. are all condensed into a single page of family news.

I think we don’t do that enough. We get so focused on what we have to do just to get through the day and the week ahead, trying to parcel out segments of time to achieve it all, that we don’t allow ourselves the necessary activity of reflection. That is to our detriment, as reflection is a great teacher of truth.

Recently an old and dear friend asked me a question about my personal life that I had alluded to in a devotional. I found myself reflecting on how the situation evolved as I was answering his query. It was interesting for me to read my responses to him. By having the opportunity to reflect on the situation from the vantage point of today, I could see how God was with me at every step as it unfolded. The end result was acceptance and peace, but I confess that it didn’t come easily. But it did come as a result of years’ worth of prayer … not just mine, but others who prayed for me. I am grateful for his interest and grateful for the chance to revisit those emotions and disappointments and remember again how God brought me to the peace I know today.

Advent is a time for reflection. It is a time to claim God’s promises revealed through the prophets and manifested through the Christ child. It is a time to recall why we needed a Savior in the first place. It is a time to tally up the year’s events and activities and consider if we have been spending our days wisely or frivolously.

It is a time to remember.

In this ninth chapter of Isaiah, the prophet does exactly that. He remembers and then he looks ahead … not just to the present reality but to the future hope. In this passage, Isaiah recalls the darkness of the people of Israel in the present time as they were living under Assyrian oppression. He reflects on God’s amazing power in the past when Gideon defeated his oppressors at Midian. He predicts the time when all oppressors’ boots and blood-stained garments will be burned in a victory pyre:

Isaiah 9 (New International Version)

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.

Having thus reflected on the years behind, he looks toward the advent of the long-awaited Messiah and rejoices in the justice, righteousness, and peace that the child will bring.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

As we let these words sink in today during this final week of Advent, we would do well to turn off our phones, close the laptop for a moment and REFLECT. How was your year? Have you spent your time well this last 12 months? Where did you see and encounter God? How do you want the next 12 months to go?

In the end, what God desires for us is to find peace. When we gather to celebrate the Second Coming, this is what we will finally experience as a world. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father will come to reign as the Prince of Peace.

May peace be yours today as you reflect, remember, and rejoice. Oh, come, oh come Emmanuel!

Reflections of Light by Michelle Robertson

Family Ties

My birthday has come and gone, and it was made all the happier by my cousin, who sent a ginormous arrangement of flowers, called me to tell me she loves me, and mailed a beautiful card. She is what remains of my childhood family and her care and attention on my birthday was such a blessing. When you reach the point of your life when your parents and siblings are gone, your birthday can be a harsh reminder of those losses. You know cards won’t come, calls won’t be made, and there will be no immediate family sharing in the celebration of your birth. Then your cousin lovingly steps in and makes up for all those feelings of loss with her beautiful and generous gifts and reminds you of your family ties. How blessed am I!

In our scripture today, we see Paul making the same kind of family ties as he links himself with Jesus. He is proud to be called to be an apostle and relishes the fact that he has been set apart as one who is charged with delivering God’s good news.

Romans 1 (Common English Bible)

From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news. 2-3 God promised this good news about his Son ahead of time through his prophets in the holy scriptures.

Paul continues by connecting his family ties through the prophets, and then linked Jesus (and himself) to King David. Jesus was the fulfillment of David’s lineage, placing all of Jesus’ followers in line with Israel’s royalty.

His Son was descended from David. 

Having thus established earthly family ties, Paul reaches heavenward to establish ties to God. In this, we are reminded that Jesus was fully human AND fully divine. The power of the resurrection confirms Jesus’ place in the holy trinity.

He was publicly identified as God’s Son with power through his resurrection from the dead, which was based on the Spirit of holiness. This Son is Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Then, in typical Paul fashion, now that he has connected us to God through these various family ties, he charged us to accept our own appointment to be apostles, just as he had done:

Through him we have received God’s grace and our appointment to be apostles. This was to bring all Gentiles to faithful obedience for his name’s sake. You who are called by Jesus Christ are also included among these Gentiles.

The assignment is clear. We are descended from royalty and have received a commission to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And there is no better time to do this than Advent. How many churches in your neighborhood are offering special worship services and events this month? Find one, and invite someone to go with you.

I think it was especially clever of Paul to make this kind of appeal to the proud citizens of Rome. He invited them to participate in a worldview that is bigger than even Rome itself, and reminded them that they are dearly loved by God and called to be God’s people:

To those in Rome who are dearly loved by God and called to be God’s people.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

So are you. You are dearly loved by God, and you are called to be his people. Go, and tell the world!

Family Love by Peggy Bryson