Christmas

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#WhatDoesItAllMean?

Friday, December 29th, 2023

Victory

The final Sunday of 2023 is rapidly approaching. I know…hard to believe. Right? But it is a fact that Christmas is over and 2024 is staring us right in the eyeballs.  In a few days people will be staying up and watching the ball drop. The only thing I watch drop is my eyelids as I go to bed at my normal time. Usually that time is around 9:00. I may actually push it to 10:00 but I’m not counting on it. 🙂

This sermon ends my theme of VICTORY for 2023. It has been an interesting year in many ways. I took my first ever foray into preaching on Revelation.  I started it on January 8 and preached to the end of February. I took a break for the months of March and April to take a look at Characters of Easter, then preached some on Joshua as I focused on Mother’s and Father’s Day. In July and August I went back to Revelation and got to chapter 13.  During that time Pastor Ryan and his family took a 7 week sabbatical. It was a super busy time for me, but I was able to be involved in some of the young people’s ballgames (I loved it). In September and October I preached a much-needed series on The God We Worship which culminated in the church’s 19th anniversary.  During the months of November and December I honed in on More Than a Holiday (Thanksgiving and Christmas being more than a holiday on the calendar). 

And here I am…the last Sunday in 2023 and finishing up by asking “What Does it all Mean?” You can visit my other blog, Cycleguy’s Spin, for a more complete idea of the sermon. I’d like to invite you to visit us online or in person this Sunday (if you live in or around Spencer or if you are visiting McCormick’s Creek State Park). We would love to have you. We have two services: on at 9:00 and one at 10:45. Both are live streamed.

Have a good end of the year and may your 2024 bring you closer to Jesus.  I will talk about the theme for 2024 in next week’s post on the Sunday gathering.

December 25

Monday, December 25th, 2023

Merry Christmas everyone! We left this morning for Ohio and will be home tomorrow so I’ll be taking a break from posting here. But due whether I will post this week or just include something about the sermon for Sunday. In either case, have a great week.

#Don’tMissIt!!

Friday, December 22nd, 2023

Victory

What do the Innkeeper, Herod and the Religious leaders all have in common?  Well…I suspect the title of this post gave it away.  They all missed Christmas. Well…not Christmas as we know it. Obviously. But they did miss the significance of the birth which took place right under their noses.

At the same time there are some who did not miss Christmas. The most obvious are Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men. But there were two who had waited a long time and finally saw their wait come to pass.  I am, of course, talking about Simeon and Anna (See Luke 2:25-40 for their stories).

Back to the first three. This Sunday I will talking about how they missed Christmas and why. I thought I would give you a taste of what I will be saying.

1. The Innkeeper missed Christmas because he was too preoccupied. Have we gotten so preoccupied with life that we miss it?

2. Herod (and others like him) miss Christmas because they refuse to believe or they see Him as a threat. Like Scrooge, they work without a thought given to others or the true meaning of the season.

3. The religious leaders missed Christmas because of their religion. The big question-the huge question-is this: if the religious leaders knew of Messiah’s birth and where it was to take place, why did they not go with the magi or form a group to go together? I mean, if I had been looking for something to happen for years, and I knew it was prophesied to happen, why would I stay home? Surely they had some curiosity. But then again…maybe not.

We have one service on Sunday morning at 10:00 so if you plan to attend or watch online please keep that in mind. We also have a Christmas Eve service planned at 5:00 that will be laid back, involving singing some carols, hearing some testimonies, taking communion together, watching a Christmas video, and listening to Mollie Wainscott play O Holy Night on her violin. The morning service will be live streamed but not the evening.  I look forward to seeing you.

December 20

Thursday, December 21st, 2023

There are just sometimes you just couldn’t orchestrate something any better even if you tried. Know what I mean? Case in point: this morning.

I have an almost constant pattern in the morning. I seldom deviate from it. Other than the shower, etc I take every morning, I have what I call my Encounter Time (ET). Some call it their Quiet Time. During my ET, I use several different resources to read and meditate on, but the crux is my reading from the Bible.  I am almost constantly reading from Psalms (usually 2 chapters a day, except 119); every other month the book of Proverbs (1 chapter/day = 31 days); and from the NT. This year I have read through the NT twice and am now on my 3rd time. This will obviously carry on into 2024. Today’s reading was from Psalm 39-40, Pr. 21, and Mark 15-16. There was some great stuff in Psalms and Proverbs today, but the real irony was in Mark. Mark 15-16 is about Jesus’ death and resurrection!!

This is Christmas…the birth of Jesus and I’m reading about the death and resurrection. The irony didn’t escape me. Birth. Death. Resurrection (Life). The story of His life and purpose. Then the words to a well-known Christmas song came to mind. Here is a snippet: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity; Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel…Mild He lays His glory by, Born than man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give us second birth.”

The irony-no, the truth-does not escape me. Birth. Death. Life. They go together. For Jesus. For us. Or maybe I ought to say, “For Jesus. Because of Jesus for us.”  The birth needs the death and resurrection to give meaning. The death and resurrection needs the birth to have a beginning. “Born to raise the sons of earth/Born to give them second birth/Hark the herald angels sing/Glory to the newborn King.”

Celebrate His birth with the future (His and yours) in mind.

December 20

Wednesday, December 20th, 2023

One of my blogging friends, Martha Jane Orlando, blogs at Meditations of my Heart.  She recently wrote and posted a simple but profound poem. You can find her blog and the poem here. To save you some time on the poem, here it is: “Holy candles/Lit in hope/Peace and joy/Laced in love/Everlasting/Flames ablaze/Light profound/Darkness flees/When God surrounds/The Soul and self. Amen”

That simple poem carries the essence of the Christmas story. Or maybe I should the essence of what we are looking for in the Christmas story or Christmas season. We all long for hope. We all long for peace. We all long for joy. We all long for love. If what I write is not true, check out the many Christmas songs we sing. How many of them talk about one of those 4 longings?

The story of Christmas, and yes, even the season of Christmas for those not even interested in the deeper story, draws people to those 4 longings in some way.  Sadly, there will be many who will seek the answer to those longings in the temporary-a relationship, a drink, a sentiment, a party with friends, even ringing a bell. But in the long run those 4 longings won’t be answered in or with the temporary. No, as Martha says, “Light profound/Darkness flees/When God surrounds/the Soul and self.” Profound and everlasting change will come only when the Eternal Father (God) surrounds us with His presence. When the baby in the manger, God made flesh, becomes more than a prop in a play. When the angels are more than dressed-up kids in white sheets and the wise men are more than kids in bathrobes. 🙂 Only when the truth of the Christmas story becomes more than a cute sentiment will those 4 longings become a permanent part of our lives.

Thank you, Martha, for the simple, yet insightful poem. Thank you, God, for the answer to the longings of each and every heart: love, joy, peace and hope…Jesus Christ, the baby born in the manger. The King who became a baby, who became a sacrifice, who is now a King again…AND WILL COME AGAIN AS KING.

December 19

Tuesday, December 19th, 2023

It used to be that one blogger would feature another blogger for the purpose of helping the other to be “heard.” I also had another reason: I felt what the other person said was worth others hearing it. I used to read a blog which has since almost ceased due to a lack of readers (I just may be including my own in that statement). 🙂 Her name was Diane Ronzino and she blogged at Hadarah. Yesterday (Monday) she emailed me to tell me Merry Christmas but also to let me know of a blog she published. Now…for some reason Feedly does not include her blog in any feed to notify me of a new one and there is no place to sign up for an email from her. But this time Diane personally emailed me. I went to her blog and read her post. It was beautiful and since I am not a poet, it struck me even more. I’d like to ask you to head over there to read her post. You can find it here.

While you are there please leave a comment for her to read. In the meantime, I want to comment further on her post.

The poem/reading Diane offers is simple, yet contains profound truth. The HOLY came to be with the unholy. The HOLY came to be with what was once holy and sinless. The HOLY came to be with the broken. But He didn’t just come to be with the broken, He came to make the broken whole. He came to take care of the sin problem we all have (Romans 3:10, 23).  He came to set the captives free. It is easy to talk about how He came to break the chains of shame and addiction and (you name it). But it is far more concise to say that He came to break the chains of sin. Period. All else- our shame, our addictions, our struggles-are a result of that sin that entered the world- when the Holy became unholy-when our parents (Adam and Eve) decided they knew better than the ONE who was and is completely HOLY.

This Christmas season is more than a jolly good time. It is more than lights twinkling on a tree or a house. It is more than greeting people with a smile, a howdy-doody, a “Have a merry Christmas” or singing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire or dreaming of a white Christmas. It is much more about a holy night where joy entered the world in a form of a baby who grew, lived, died, and rose again…all to make the unholy Holy.

May the real truth of Christmas ring in your heart louder than any bell.

 

#RoleofaLifetime

Friday, December 15th, 2023

Victory

 Aspiring actors and actresses are everywhere. I went to high school with Jeff Goldblum. My senior picture is on the same page in our yearbook as his. I had no clue Jeff would leave our high school and head to New York for the stage and ultimately to a TV show named TenSpeed and Brownshoe, and then on to Jurassic Park, Independence Day, multiple other movies, and finally back to TV with Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

For every successful actor there are hundreds, maybe thousands who never make it. At best, they are two-bit players. Truthfully, some people are looked at that way. Many overlooked. Many seen as hacks. It happens all the time, in every profession. Sunday’s sermon will be dealing with two groups of people. One, is seen as little people. The others are seen as big people. Well…at least as the world looks at them that way. But in God’s eyes, there are no little people and there are no big people.

Shepherds and Wise men. The have’s and the have not’s.  The clean and the unclean.  The “welcome-to-my-world” versus those who are “not welcome anywhere.” The stories are familiar but I will be praying we all might learn something new this week. I look forward to seeing you in person at 9:00 and 10:45 or via live stream.

December 14

Thursday, December 14th, 2023

All week long I’ve been looking at the women who are in Jesus’ genealogy. You can check them out here and here and here. But I’m going to shift gears this morning and talk about a man. Yes, I know you could say, “Pick a man. Any man” much like you would in a card trick. Jesus’ genealogy is no different in that respects from any other one from that time. {Side note: for Matthew to include women in Jesus’ genealogy was highly unusual. Women were considered non-entities in that day and age. Even in His lineage, Jesus breaks the mold}. Okay, off the rabbit trail and back on course. 🙂 The man is mentioned in Matthew 1:16 with a fuller story in verses 18-25.

Joseph. The earthly father of Jesus. The husband of Mary.

Jewish marriage was in 2 stages. The parents usually arranged the marriage to start with. The first stage was the kiddushin, or what we would call the engagement period. The second stage was the huppa. It was actually more like our engagement period, but the couple was considered married and had all the rights and privileges of marriage EXCEPT the sexual relationship. Joseph and Mary were in this stage.

That explains why Joseph sought to divorce Mary. In his eyes, the explanation Mary gave for being pregnant had to be incredulous. “Seriously? An angel told you what?” I honestly believe Joseph loved Mary and it was more than an arranged marriage at this point. His only go to was Mary had broken her virginity with someone. He just knew it wasn’t with him. Joseph was an honorable man. He didn’t want a scandal. He didn’t want to embarrass or demean Mary. Take her away. Divorce her quietly. Let her live her life without shame.

Until God intervened in a dream. Long story short (and you probably know it): Joseph did as he was told, i.e. stay with her and marry her and don’t have relations with her until after Jesus’ birth.  Then be the father to Immanuel. That seems like a lot to us. But consider this: Joseph went through life with the reputation of being married to a promiscuous woman-which, of course, was not true. Mary went through life being considered an immoral woman. On one occasion the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Well, we weren’t born as a result of sexual immorality.” (John 8:41).  Yeah, like let’s bring up someone’s past. “Mary, you had an illegitimate child. Joseph, you are the father of that child.” They lived with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s scarlet letter glowing brightly.

Joseph’s story seems to end sometime after Jesus’ turned 12 and was found in the Temple. It is surmised that he died after fathering other children with Mary. Joseph teaches us the importance of listening and saying “Yes” to God (just like Mary). Jesus had two good earthly teachers-a father who loved Him as his own, and a mother who loved Him until His death. May we all be like Joseph and be willing to change the course of our lives if led by God to do so.

December 7

Thursday, December 7th, 2023

One of my favorite short stories of all that generally is read, seen, or heard during the Christmas season (besides the real story of the birth of Jesus), is the one written by O’Henry called The Gift of the Magi.  It would be hard for me to find or believe there being someone who has not read or heard of this story, but just in case…

I understand that O’Henry’s personal life was in turmoil at the time of writing this story, which makes this story even more incredible. He tells the story of a young couple (Jim & Della) who are deeply in love but dirt poor. It is Christmas time and they each wanted to get the other a gift. To summarize: when it comes time for them to give each other their gift, Jim gives Della combs for her beautiful, long hair, and Della gives Jim a beautiful gold chain for his pocket watch. The beauty of the story is that Della cut her hair and sold it to buy the chain: Jim sold his watch to buy the combs. The ending of the story says, “Of all who give and receive gifts, these two were the most wise.”

The story has one overarching lesson (among many): sacrifice for another is the greatest gift of all. Speaking from a 2023 viewpoint, can you imagine the love they had for each other to 1) take a most prized possession (hair and watch) and sell it for 2) the ultimate gift of sacrifice to one you love? After Della hands Jim the chain which she is so proud of buying, he tells her about selling his watch to by her combs and then tells here, “We should put our gifts away and have our meal.” O’Henry’s point can’t be missed: is there any greater gift than sacrificing for another?

Need I make the point? Jesus. Cross. Sacrifice. Giving up His life for those whom He loved and loves.

We are wise (magi) if we follow His example.

December 6

Wednesday, December 6th, 2023

When I was a young ‘un growing up, I will admit (now) that I looked forward to Christmas. I’d like to be spiritual and say that it was because of the focus on the birth of Christ, or I truly believed it was more blessed to give than to receive, but would not be telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I had no idea how cash-strapped my parents were; I just know it was a magical time of the year.

Part of that magic (before I knew better) was SC. No…not Scott Calvin. Santa Claus. The big guy. Part of Christmas Eve in the young Grandi household was watching an animated version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (15 minutes) followed by a 15 minute retelling of the birth of Jesus.  Later it was the Peanuts cartoon with Linus’ famous rendition of the Luke 2. I know…I’m really telling my age. 🙂

Anyway, SC was part of the magic. Stories abound in my head of scenes from my childhood of the ghost of Christmas past. SC is intriguing though. Little did I know, as a child, of the history and legacy of his coming to be. The person we know as Saint Nicholas (Saint Nick) was born around AD 270 to a wealthy Grecian family.  Tragically, his parents died when he was a boy, and he lived with an uncle to loved him and taught him to follow God. When he was a young man, legend says that he heard of 3 sisters who didn’t have a dowry for marriage and would soon be destitute. Wanting to follow Jesus’ teaching of helping those in need, he took his inheritance and gave each sister a bag of gold coins. Over the years he gave the rest of his money away feeding the poor and caring for others. Down through time he has been honored for his generosity and held up as a standard for giving.

Sadly, many today want to rail against the commercialization of Christmas (with some merit I might add) and SC, the symbol of that commercialization. Rather than rail, let’s refocus on what he represents-giving, and in a sense, the spirit found in Matthew 25:24-40. (Please take a moment to look it up).

It is much better to give than to receive, especially when it is for and to someone less fortunate.

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Again, please let me remind you to check out my other blog (link to the right of this post) and subscribe for totally different content than this daily devotion. Thanks.