Re-Lent

It happens every year. We just get past the overindulgence of Thanksgiving gravy, Christmas pie, New Years’ toasts, Super Bowl snacks, Valentine’s chocolates, and BAM. Lent happens. This 40-day period of self examination is not designed to punish us for our self-indulgences, but rather it provides an opportunity to grow closer to God by focusing on the things that realign our priorities and our time. It is a chance to re-center our thinking. It is a chance to re-do our to-do lists and put God at the top. We worship a God of second chances, and Lent is our chance once again to shift our lives back toward God.

But more than that, Lent is about our mortality. The ashes we place on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday remind us that from the earth we have come and to the earth we return….ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This sobering season begins when the alarm has sounded, the assembly has gathered, and the day of darkness is upon us:

Joel 2 (New Revised Standard Version)

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
    nor will be again after them
    in ages to come.

We are invited to return…..and repent:

Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     rend your hearts and not your clothing.

The promise is offered: if we return to the Lord, he will relent from punishing. As we re-Lent, he will relent.

Return to the Lord, your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
    and relents from punishing.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
    and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
    for the Lord, your God?

The call is urgent to come to the altar quickly. The time is upon us to begin this process. Even the bride and bridegroom are summoned from their bedchamber to be about the Lord’s business.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16     gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
    assemble the aged;
gather the children,
    even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her canopy.

17 Between the vestibule and the altar
    let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
    and do not make your heritage a mockery,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”

Many of us will not be able to gather in an assembly tonight due to the pandemic. Some of you may have obtained ashes from your church and will participate in an Ash Wednesday service online. In any case, you are invited to contemplate taking on the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, scripture reading, self-examination, repentance, meditation, and penitence. You may choose to give something up for the next six weeks so that you can focus on God in its absence. You may choose to add a new practice that would take you deeper in your discipleship. I hope reading this daily devotional will be part of your commitment! If you don’t have access to ashes, you can use water and make the sign of the cross on your forehead as a mark of your sincerity.

I pray that you will join me as we observe a Holy Lent.

Gracious and Loving God, be with us today as we contemplate those things that have pulled us away from you. Help us to return. We hear your call and we desire nothing but a right relationship with your Son. Grant us a meaningful Lent season, so that when Easter morning dawns, you will find us to be new people, made more like him and less like ourselves. AMEN

Dust to Dust by Becca Ziegler

Growing Weary

Let’s go back to a time in your life when you were truly, utterly, exhausted. For many of us, the first thing that comes to mind is living with a newborn. There is no tired like post-pushing tired. I remember once waking up in the middle of the night to discover that I was standing up and leaning over my daughter’s crib. I had gotten up to soothe her, knowing that she was fed and dry. As I rubbed her back, I fell asleep in that position. I don’t know if I slept for 5 seconds or 5 minutes, but I don’t ever remember being that tired.

There are several variations of “tired.” We can grow weary of relationships. We can feel fatigued at the incessant opposition to our beliefs. We can become quickly exhausted by lack of sleep, lack of courtesy, lack of respect, lack of empathy, and especially lack of hope.

When this pandemic started, I likened it to a marathon, with the good news that every race has a prescribed course that is carefully marked out, and ends with a fixed and discernible finish line. Today I learned that there is something called the “Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race” that takes place in Queens, New York every year. It takes 52 days of running 6 a.m. to midnight to complete it. The average mileage is a little under 60 miles a day. Runners have six hours per day for eating, washing, foot care, and sleep. Just thinking about that makes me tired.

So let me revise my earlier analogy of the pandemic being like a marathon, because now we realize that it is more like a “Self-Transcendence 3,100 Mile Race” and we have all become ultramarathoners.

But don’t miss the point…there is still a finish line at the end of this race, and every morning when we wake up, we are one day closer to the end.

Isaiah has some beautiful things to say about feeling faint, growing weary, being powerless, and where we can go to have our strength renewed:

Isaiah 40 (New Revised Standard Version)

Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.

How reassuring is this? We are not running this ultramarathon alone, but indeed, God is running right there with us. He is the everlasting God. HE does not faint or grow weary. And look what happens next:

29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.

In the battle of virtual school, virtual church, virtual family birthday parties, virtual work, and virtually everything, God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. We need that NOW.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.

Those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength. They shall continue to run this crazy race and not be weary. The finish line is getting closer! Keep your head up and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

We truly are one day closer to the end of this thing.

Finish Line by Erin Gregory

Dropping Nets

What is in your hand right now? An electronic device, for sure. Possibly a cup of coffee, praise God from whom all blessings flow!

What will you fill your hands with as your day moves along? A computer mouse, a remote control, a paring knife, a child’s hand, a book, a cell phone, a wine glass, a steering wheel…we fill our hands, our time, our minds, our hearts, and our lives with many things in an ordinary day.

Now comes the question. Will those things you will hold bring you closer to God’s holy presence, or did will they in fact keep you far from it?

Most electronic devices come with an ability to monitor your screen time. If you want a moment of clarity about “where does the time go,” check it out. You might be very surprised to see how much screen time you are consuming. This is another fallout of the pandemic. And yes, I realize that right now I am contributing to your screen time, so hopefully it’s not all bad! Indeed, screen time can be good and productive when it contributes to our work and our lives….and then there is Netflix-binging.

In the first chapter of Mark, some ordinary guys were having an ordinary day filling their hands with ordinary work. These guys were fishermen, so their hands were filled with nets.

Mark 1 (Common English Bible)

14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

Jesus calls disciples

16 As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 18 Right away, they left their nets and followed him.

The immediacy of their response is noteworthy. RIGHT AWAY they left their nets.

Where is God calling you to put something down so that your attention can be directed toward his kingdom? Where is God calling you to change your heart and your life? In what way is he asking you to trust that this call is good news for you?

And it’s not just things we need to leave behind. Attitudes, entitlements, anger, misunderstanding, self-righteousness…God also calls us to drop these as well.

19 After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. 20 At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.

Some even left family and co-workers to follow Jesus. Maybe it’s time to leave behind all the people you have disagreed with over worldly issues and just follow Jesus. Maybe it’s time to leave Twitter behind. Maybe it’s time to leave main stream media, Facebook, Words With Friends, Tik Tok, and all those other distractions behind.

What is in your hand often dictates what is in your heart. Following Jesus requires leaving things behind. But you can trust that your hands will be filled with blessings if you empty them of all the worldly things.

Follow Me by Michelle Robertson

Being Slaves to our Whims

Raise your hand if you ate and/or drank too much over the holidays.

Mid-January always seems to be the time to confess our sins of overindulgence. One friend shared that she couldn’t stop eating the Christmas candy and her scale is confirming it. Another claims to have grown an evil eating-machine-twin that she is now trying to shed. Most of us can truthfully say that we experienced a departure from healthy eating over the holidays. Diets have been abandoned, our exercise bikes are being used as clothes racks, and all of our good intentions fled along with the Thanksgiving turkey.

You can put your hand down now.

In addition, the pandemic’s stay-at-home guidance was coupled with the attack on the nation’s Capitol last week, leaving us welded to our couches. Our days find us mindlessly engaging in anxiety-eating as we consume endless hours of news, sweets, and tweets. No wonder we feel out of sorts and bloated of mind, body, and soul.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us that we need to take care of our bodies because they are a gift from God. The Master honors us with our bodies, and Paul calls us to honor God with how we use our bodies. He warns us against becoming a slave to our whims.

1 Corinthians 6 (The Message)

12 Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.

Paul goes on to caution us about stuffing our body with food. I think if he were alive today, he might also warn against stuffing our minds with too much news and social media. None of this is good for us in large quantities.

13 You know the old saying, “First you eat to live, and then you live to eat”? Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body!

Your body is God’s temple. What you fill it with matters to God. You see, he has a plan to treat your body with the same resurrection power that Jesus received.

14-15 God honored the Master’s body by raising it from the grave. He’ll treat yours with the same resurrection power. Until that time, remember that your bodies are created with the same dignity as the Master’s body.

You were created with dignity. God gave you a body to honor, as he honors you. What are you indulging in right now that needs to change? What are you putting in your mind, your heart, or your mouth that does not honor God? Is it time to put down the beer and turn off the TV?

Where is God calling you to make changes?

As Paul says, we can’t become slaves to our whims. Yes, things are incredibly difficult right now. But Paul reminds us that’s no excuse. Taking a 30 minute walk will clear things up significantly, or at least get you away from the candy bowl and the television for half an hour. Get up and get moving, and you will feel so much better.

Your body is created with dignity. Treat it as such.

Get Moving by Kathy Schumacher

And So It Ends

(This is a re-post of a devotional I wrote on Jan. 1, 2020. It is interesting to read this with the eyes of experience. It was impossible to know what 2020 would bring…did I hit the mark? Did I miss it entirely?

Notice that in offering examples of “things that distract us from God” I mentioned Netflix and too much screen time. I now find that HILARIOUS. Netflix may have just saved our sanity in this pandemic, and “too much screen time” was the only way to go to work/go to school/attend staff meetings/go to church/keep in touch with your friends and family. There are truths in this writing and the scripture is just as relevant and fresh today, but I am obviously not a prophet!! Enjoy….)

According to the American Optometric Association, 20/20 vision is defined as:

20/20 vision is a term used to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet. If you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance. If you have 20/100 vision, it means that you must be as close as 20 feet to see what a person with normal vision can see at 100 feet.

Today we begin a new year. A decade has closed, a year has been added, and a new beginning is offered. Looking back at the year just ended, what do you see? Joy, regret, growth, retreat, inertia, advancement…what did the last 12 months bring into your life?

Now looking at the next 12 months, what do you HOPE to see? And no matter what those hopes are, do you see God being active in your year? Does your vision for your life match HIS vision for your life?

One of my favorite scriptures on vision comes from Isaiah, Chapter 6:

Isaiah 6

6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 

Here is the quick take-away: King Uzziah was a great and powerful king. Isaiah served as his temple priest. If you look closely at the first sentence, you’ll notice that Isaiah says, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I SAW the Lord.” Kinda’ makes you wonder if the charismatic and powerful earthly king was a distraction. It took his death for Isaiah to see the Lord, who obviously was there all the time. Could it be?

In a smaller sense, we are all guilty of putting things on the throne that distract us from seeing the Lord. Indulgences of every kind, gossip-spinning, hours of Netflix, too much screen time, grudge-holding, over-indulging our children, vanity, laziness…fill in your own blank.

2020 is an opportunity to capture God’s 20/20 vision for your life. We get a do-over.

What earthly “king” is keeping you from God’s vision for your life?

What have you put on the throne in place of God?

What are you worshipping that has become a replacement for God?

Why are you so distracted?

When we clear out all the junk, vision becomes clarified. When we sweep away the debris of our past, we can capture God’s vision for our future. Putting God back on the throne of our hearts will enable us to enter the new year with hope, peace, joy, and love.

May 2020 bring us 20/20.

(Editor’s note: And may 2021 bring us healing, in the name of Jesus!)

A New Year Dawns by Michelle Robertson

Curves Ahead

This was originally published in December of 2019. Who knew that just around the corner was a PANDEMIC?? But take a look at this wonderful scripture. It sings today just as strongly as it did a year ago….and just as strongly as it did 2,000 years ago. Enjoy!

I live on an island off an island off a peninsula. My commute to work requires me to travel over two bridges and drive on an incredibly curvy road for three miles. At one point the road curved around a small Methodist church that was large enough to block your view as you drove around it, which resulted in several accidents. The DOT finally came along and straightened out the road after centuries of curviness. As we traverse Colington Road, we all have to be alert to what is just around the corner. It might be a political sign, a muddy rut, or even a chicken. Turning each corner is a challenge of staying alert.

As we say goodbye to an old year and welcome a new one, we have an opportunity to “turn the corner,” offering us a time to reflect on the trajectory we’ve been on and possibly change direction. It is not uncommon to see people back in the gym (regular gym-goers hate January with its crowded classes and busy weight rooms!), starting new diets, pledging to be more thoughtful and intentional, and otherwise making changes that promise to turn the corner on some aspect of their lives that needs fixing.

You know, Jesus was all about the turning-the-corner-life. God sent him to get humanity out of the muddy rut it had fallen into, and offers us a way out through belief in him:

Acts 3 (The Message)

19-23 “Now it’s time to change your ways! Turn to face God so he can wipe away your sins, pour out showers of blessing to refresh you, and send you the Messiah he prepared for you, namely, Jesus.

For the time being he must remain out of sight in heaven until everything is restored to order again just the way God, through the preaching of his holy prophets of old, said it would be. Moses, for instance, said, ‘Your God will raise up for you a prophet just like me from your family. Listen to every word he speaks to you. Every last living soul who refuses to listen to that prophet will be wiped out from the people.’

The act of turning toward God and having him wipe away your sins results in God pouring out showers of blessing to REFRESH you. In all the ways we will seek a refreshing this new year, this soul-refreshing is the most significant. And we need to be alert to what is just around the corner. If we meet heartache, illness, betrayal, despair, or even death there, we had better be prepared with God at our side.

Want to lose weight? Take off the heavy burden of sin.

Want to get fit? Exercise your belief.

Want to be more intentional and thoughtful? Immerse yourself in scripture.

Ready to turn the corner? Give your new year over to God and see what HE will do with it.

The showers of blessing that come from turning toward God are peace, hope, joy, and contentment. Wouldn’t that make for a wonderful 2020? (Or 2021?)

Colington UMC on curvy Colington Road

Simeon the Anticipator

This was originally published on Sept. 2, 2019. Clearly I was annoyed that Christmas resources were being hyped before Labor Day. But the scripture is absolutely perfect for this first week after Christmas 2020, as we meet Simeon the Anticipator. What are you anticipating today? Enjoy!

This headline fairly jumped off the page in an advertisement from my denomination’s publisher:

“DO YOU FEEL THE ANTICIPATION BEGINNING??”

It came unwanted and unbidden on a sunny day in August. You can probably already guess what they were selling: Christmas resources. In August.

Yes, it is time to order Advent materials. No, I don’t feel the anticipation beginning.

You see, I live on the Outer Banks. In August, all I anticipate is SEPTEMBER. September is a magical month where the weather is gorgeous, the beaches are less crowded, the air is cooler, the restaurants are still in full swing, and you can actually navigate the by-pass without getting stopped at all NINE stoplights between Colington and Kitty Hawk, which is only a four-mile trek. (Seriously, the by-pass traffic is a THING. I once wrote a song called “The By-Pass Blues,” and made my entire congregation sing it.)

Ahhh, traffic-free September! Now that’s something to anticipate!

When it comes to feeling the anticipation building, we have to talk about Simeon. Simeon was one of the best anticipators in the Bible.

Luke 2 (NIV)

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

    and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Wow, so much to unpack here, but let’s stay focused on Simeon the Anticipator. He was waiting for the Lord’s Messiah, and was empowered in his waiting by the Holy Spirit. He had been assured by God that the Messiah would actually come in his lifetime and he believed that so much, he went to the temple every day. He was there that day, led by the Holy Spirit, anticipating that he would see Jesus.

Let that soak in.

What are you anticipating today? Are you waiting with full assurance that you will encounter Jesus? Are you making your way toward his saving grace with confidence that you will be delivered?

Anticipation tells us that whatever we do, wherever we are, whatever sin we have committed, whatever burden of grief we bear, no matter WHAT, Jesus is ready. He is ready to heal, to direct, to rebuke, to fight for you….Jesus is ready.

Simeon teaches us to anticipate with hope. We are invited to stand firm on the promises of God in our lives and EXPECT to be delivered. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of Jesus:

Romans 8 (NLT)

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” God always delivers on his promises.

Simeon saw Jesus, and we can too. Do you feel the anticipation beginning?

Morning’s Anticipation by Michelle Robertson

How Beautiful

Last week I had the extraordinary opportunity to film a children’s sermon in a sheep pasture, surrounded by live sheep. This is a first for ya girl. It was a beautiful and startling experience. The plan was for me to sit on a chair in the middle of the open field and read a little story that I had written about Jesus’ birth as told from the perspective of the animals at the manger.

Cue the sheep!

So the kind sheep handler positioned the flock just off camera and was ready to spread out their feed around my chair. The idea was that when the camera rolled, they would be surrounding me as I read, peacefully eating at my feet. It almost went like that. Almost.

The sheep were apparently excited by my reading, which of course included a perspective from one of their own…a sheep named Shirley…who, it turned out, speaks with a British accent for some reason. Or maybe it was the snack being strewn about. In any case, when the camera rolled and the feed was distributed, they charged hard…so hard that my camera girl almost got sideswiped. And then as soon as the snack was gone, so were the sheep. I was alone in the pasture. Two of them eventually returned to give me the side-eye, but that was it.

When I returned home, my dog went nuts. Apparently the sheep residue that I brought in on my shoes was quite the treat for her overactive nose. How beautiful are the feet that announce the good news of the sheep pasture!

In our passage today, the prophet Isaiah raises up the beauty of the messengers who bring good news. The Messiah is coming! Lift up your voices and sing:

Isaiah 52 (New Revised Standard Version)

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
    together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.

Jesus came to redeem his people….ALL his people. With the birth of the Messiah, the entire world saw the salvation of God in one holy birth. The message of peace that Jesus brought is a message of hope for the world, and that message is as beautiful today as it was the very first time when cows, donkeys, and fleeting sheep heard it in a little town called Bethlehem.

10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.

And the glory of the Lord was revealed! So go and share the good news….your God reigns.

My Girl Shirl Photo by Island Farm

At Last

We are finally in the last stretch of our holiday waiting. By the end of this week, Christmas will be here. All of the preparation, decision-making, and cleaning/shopping/wrapping/baking will be presented in their full glory (for better or worse) and the day will arrive.

Think of all the things you have to wait for….college graduations, childbirth, wedding days, the internet guy to come…waiting is hard! But it is often in the waiting that we are made ready for the next step.

Our passage in Hebrews speaks of a waiting time that is finally over. From the first sin until the advent of Jesus Christ, we waited.

We were waiting for absolution.

We were waiting for redemption.

We were waiting for salvation.

We were waiting for a way out.

And then, at last, God sent his Son.

Hebrews 1 (Contemporary English Version)

1 Long ago in many ways and at many times God’s prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. God created the universe by his Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son. 

God’s Son has all the brightness of God’s own glory and is like him in every way. By his own mighty word, he holds the universe together.

Just ponder that for a moment. God’s Son holds the universe together. On days when it is all falling apart, on days that are dismal and hopeless, on days when there is no light at all, he holds the universe together.

After the Son had washed away our sins, he sat down at the right side of the glorious God in heaven. He had become much greater than the angels, and the name he was given is far greater than any of theirs.

Jesus has all the brightness of God’s glory to shine into our bleakest winters. His word is sure. His word is good…and his word lasts forever.

So no matter where your heart is on this last stretch of waiting, take comfort. The One whose name is greater than any other name holds YOU in his heart.

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel.

Peaceful Waters by Michelle Robertson

Secret Keeping

What is the best secret you have ever kept? Was it yours, or someone else’s? Secrets are generally kept for two purposes…either to protect someone or something, or to orchestrate a surprise.

Romans 16 comes along as a surprise this week. We’ve been tickling our toes in the Advent waters of Isaiah, Luke, and the Psalms, but today we are suddenly thrust into the final chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Romans was written well after the birth and death of Jesus, so you will not find any Christmas carols here.

But what you’ll discover is probably the most significant part of Jesus’ birth narrative, which is often overlooked in our lackluster worship experiences and traditional, same-as-last-year Christmas Eve messages.

That thing is mystery.

We have lost our sense of mystery. Not just about Jesus, but about everything. Nothing surprises us anymore. Movies are so formulaic, we can predict the outcome in the first five minutes. (Only two minutes for a Hallmark movie.) Television is worse. Politics, national affairs, the economy, even the pandemic all follow patterns and processes that are predictable to a degree. Think I’m wrong? Study the Spanish Flu of 1918. What we are dealing with today was predicted.

As it says in Ecclesiastes 1:9:

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

The secret that Paul refers to in this last paragraph is a mystery that shook up the world. It was held in secret by the prophets for a time, and then revealed in due course in order to surprise the world.

Romans 16 (Common English Bible)

25 May the glory be to God who can strengthen you with my good news and the message that I preach about Jesus Christ. He can strengthen you with the announcement of the secret that was kept quiet for a long time. 

It was always assumed that the Gentiles would never have any part in what the Jews held as their own. A messiah was promised to come and redeem Israel. But there was a secret component to that…he would also redeem the rest of the world. Surprise!

26 Now that secret is revealed through what the prophets wrote. It is made known to the Gentiles in order to lead to their faithful obedience based on the command of the eternal God. 

The mystery of Jesus is that he came to lead his people, not in war against their oppressors so that he could establish his own kingdom, but into peace.

The surprise of Jesus is that he is God incarnate, God-made-flesh. He was born of a woman, walked among us, and was crucified for the sins of humanity.

The secret of his crucifixion is that it had been planned all along in order to save us.

The mystery of his resurrection caught the world totally off guard.

And here’s the not-so-secret of it all: if you accept Christ as your savior and put your whole trust in his grace, you, too, will share in the resurrection.

It’s time to let the secret out. Jesus was born in a manger so that he could die on a cross for the forgiveness of sins. May we all shed light on his glorious, absolute truth.

27 May the glory be to God, who alone is wise! May the glory be to him through Jesus Christ forever! Amen.

Snowberries by Mary Anne Mong Cramer