December 29, 2007

Christmas Threat

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 1:02 pm

“Now after [the magi] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’”  Matthew 2:13

The coming of God is supposed to bring peace on earth, isn’t it?  And yet, here is the holy family running for their lives after the birth of the Christ child.

The presence of new life is seen as a threat to those who are comfortable with the status quo.  Those who are overly satisfied with the way the world is already organized will attempt to close off any real possibilities for reconciliation or healing or peace.

Mighty Herod knew his power was fragile; he felt so vulnerable that he seemed endangered by a new baby.  So he attempted to remove the threat.  His actions brought about much pain and suffering in the world.  But every power that is based on creating an atmosphere of fear by means of the domination of one group over another is a power that will not endure.  It cannot last because it cannot compete with the power of God.

With God’s coming, there is peace to be found in this awareness - that God embraces those at greatest risk, the “least,” the “lost,” the “last.”

December 23, 2007

Christmas Disturbance

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 6:04 pm

“Her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to pbulic disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…”  [Matthew 1:19-20]

I am always amazed to think that Joseph wanted to run away from the first Christmas.  We tend to focus on the wonder and the excitement of the story.  We tend to forget that a part of the story can be disturbing, at least at first.

Whenever God comes near, it means changes.  That is what John the Baptizer has been telling us!  But we tend to think those changes are meant for “sinners,” or “unbelievers,” or people who aren’t quite as “good” as we are.  Yet the Christmas story reminds us that even “righteous” Joseph had to turn his life in an unanticipated direction -towards Mary and this unexpected child - when God came near.

May we not run from those disturbances that are due to God coming near to us, to bring new life, new love, new peace.

December 13, 2007

The One to Come

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 11:47 am

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” [Matthew 11:3]

John the Baptizer spent his life preparing the way for the coming Messiah.  So one might expect him to have a good idea about how that Messiah’s arrival would appear.  Yet here we have John, in prison, sending his disciples to ask Jesus if he’s the One for whom they’ve been waiting.  He has apparently been expecting a more fiery character, perhaps one who will lead the people by the power of brute strength.  Jesus surely had his fiery moments, as when he overturned the tables in the temple.  Yet his authority does not arise from his use of mighty force, but from the transformations of the powerless ones who come into contact with him.  “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news.” [Mt. 11:5]

Frequently stories of scripture concern the failure of those who are praying for help, healing, or salvation to recognize the answer to their prayers.  Those who are the most certain in their expectations about how God will act are often the most astonished when God does act.  God seems to take a delight in surprising us with gifts that arrive in ways we wouldn’t expect them.

The Iona Community has expressed it in the words of this modern Christmas carol:

  • Who would think that what was needed to transform and save the earth
  • Might not be a plan or army proud in purpose, proved in worth?
  • Who would think, despite derision, that a child should lead the way?
  • God surprises earth with heaven, coming here on Christmas Day.

[New Century Hymnal #153, copyright 1990, Wild Goose Publications/Iona Community]

December 8, 2007

Wilderness

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 11:26 am

Every Advent brings us the character of John the Baptizer, surviving in the desert in his uncomfortable clothes with his unusual diet.  From that locale, he rails against those people who are trying their hardest to be faithful, calling them “Snakes in the Grass” who are trying to hide from coming wrath.  As we’re readying ourselves for parties and gift exchanges, he’s telling us to repent, to turn in other directions, and to make new paths through the wilderness.

Why does the path to Christmas always have to lead through the wilderness?

Of course only two gospels mention the birth of Jesus, while all four gospels tell us about John preaching in the wilderness.  So they really wanted John to help introduce us to Jesus.

Beyond that, I suspect it is a matter of remembering that the Christ child came to earth to be laid in a manger, that he spent much of his adult life associating with folks on the fringes of society, and that he was viewed as a threat by “the good, religious people” of his day.  In other words, he came to be wherever people are stuck in the wilderness - be it a wilderness created by illness, by poverty, by oppression, by poor choices, or by any other cause.

To welcome the Christ child is to acknowledge the presence of wilderness in our world and in our own lives, and to let him share our journeys through those places.