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

In Your Midst

I was stuck at a tire repair shop this week, waiting for a leaky tire to be diagnosed. Alas, the leak was too great and a new tire had to be purchased. While I waited, I stumbled upon The Great British Baking Show’s holiday episode. What joy! Four former contestants returned to compete in three Christmas-themed baking challenges.

One contest was to make holiday cake pops. This peaked my non-baker’s interest, as I have always wondered how they are made. Do they use a special ball-shaped form? A muffin pan made of perfect spheres? Do they bake cake into thick squares and then sculpt them into neat balls and stick a lollipop stick in the bottom?

Well I was stunned. None of these methods are how you make a cake pop. Lo and behold, you bake a regular pan or sheet cake and then MASH IT UP when the cake is cool. Then you take the mashed-up cake and mix it with…wait for it…buttercream frosting. Then you scoop it into your buttered hands, shape it into lollipop-sized balls, shove a stick in the bottom, and frost.

Who knew??

The things you learn at the tire shop.

Today’s passage from John 1 is a little like me watching how cake pops are made.

What exactly are we looking at? What weird mashup of things has created what we are seeing? The people were confused. They saw a man named John who was baptizing people, so they assumed him to be the messiah. Little did they know what was really going on.

John 1 (The Message)

19-20 When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth: “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They pressed him, “Who, then? Elijah?”

“I am not.”

“The Prophet?”

“No.”

22 Exasperated, they said, “Who, then? We need an answer for those who sent us. Tell us something—anything!—about yourself.”

23 “I’m thunder in the desert: ‘Make the road straight for God!’ I’m doing what the prophet Isaiah preached.”

24-25 Those sent to question him were from the Pharisee party. Now they had a question of their own: “If you’re neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why do you baptize?”

26-27 John answered, “I only baptize using water. A person you don’t recognize has taken his stand in your midst. He comes after me, but he is not in second place to me. I’m not even worthy to hold his coat for him.”

A person you don’t recognize has come to save you. He is in your midst.

Did you ever stop to think that you encountered Jesus in someone, but didn’t recognize him? Did a loving pastor, grandparent, teacher, youth worker, friend, parent, stranger, etc. show you a moment of unexpected grace, startling unconditional love, or unwarranted mercy in such a way that later you recognized that they were being Jesus to you in that moment?

A cake pop isn’t really a round ball of cake. John isn’t really the messiah. That person wasn’t really Jesus. But when you had that moment with them, you were ushered into the Light.

Go and be someone’s unexpected light today.

Nobody Really Knows What’s Inside by Gail Driver

Talk About It

What do you like to talk about with your friends? Do you discuss current affairs? Family updates? The weather? Fashion? Politics…..oh, never mind. Hardly anybody ventures THERE any more!

I have a delightful moment once a week when I ZOOM with my two daughters and my niece. We talk about everything and anything. We catch up on the news of their children and jobs, we discuss the pandemic, we giggle about a feisty lady named Nancy whose room is opposite my niece’s office in the nursing home where she works, and we recommend books and shows we have enjoyed binging during the Pandemic.

Apparently there is a Japanese show called “Terrace House” that captured their imagination. I tried to interest them in the History Channel’s survivalist competition “Alone,” but I’m sure I lost them when I described how a contestant not only took down a 600 lb. moose, but killed a wolverine WITH AN AX. Those were my exact words as our free ZOOM call cut off, and that benediction has stayed with them for a week. “WITH AN AX!”

The content of our conversations with one another reveals who we are. Talking is our way to spur one another on, offer encouragement, support each other, give suggestions and corrections, and speak out loud the things that are nestled in our hearts.

In today’s psalm, we hear a call to speak about our Lord. We are invited to tell about his deeds among the people. We are asked to talk about his wondrous works:

Psalm 105 (New King James Version)

Oh, give thanks to the Lord!
Call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples!
Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;
Talk of all His wondrous works!
Glory in His holy name;
Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord!
Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face evermore!
Remember His marvelous works which He has done,
His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth,
O seed of Abraham His servant,
You children of Jacob, His chosen ones!

Think back for a moment when you first learned about God and his love for you. You didn’t fall into that knowledge in a library, most likely. I’m guessing you didn’t take a walk on the beach and have a sudden revelation. No, chances are SOMEBODY TOLD YOU.

He is the Lord our God;
His judgments are in all the earth.
He remembers His covenant forever,
The word which He commanded, for a thousand generations,
The covenant which He made with Abraham,
And His oath to Isaac,
10 And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute,
To Israel as an everlasting covenant,
11 Saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan
As the allotment of your inheritance,”

So here is your challenge for the day: go and tell. Tell somebody about God’s goodness in your life and his covenant of love that lasts forever. Talk about what having a relationship with God means to you. You may be the only Jesus somebody will see and hear today!

Go, and tell.

This little guy came to Worship on the Lawn. Photo by Sharon Whitehurst