Kings Journey (Matthew 2:1-12)

Angel Announces – Mary Sings – Joseph Prays – Shepherds Come – God with Us – KINGS JOURNEY

I have observed that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who think there are two kinds of people and people who do not.  It is in our very nature to divide between us and them, winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, State and Carolina, ECU and any ACC or instate school, rich and poor, those born below the Mason-Dixon line and those born above the line, etc. (help me out with your divisions of the world).  Just one more observation, if you are worshiping with us on this one of the lowest attendance Sundays of the year, you are the ultimate insider.

(North Point Community Church outside of Atlanta does not have worship celebrations on the last Sunday of the year to give their 1000+ volunteers a break.  When I brought this up with my staff they thought this would be a great model to follow, but others disagreed.  Most of the dyed in the wool Christians I know consider cancelling Sunday worship a heresy, excepting for snow or others “acts of God.”  I mean if its Sunday then we are … playing some football right?)

I bring this to our attention because most the lessons about Jesus’ birth are about establishing his insider status among God’s chosen sons and daughters.  The “Scandal of Particularity” is that God became flesh and blood and moved into the backwater towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth, in the backwater province of Judea on the edge of the mighty Roman empire.  If God were planning to transform the whole world (see John 3:16, “for God so loved the world …), then the plan seems inverted.  Wouldn’t have made sense to have God’s child show up in Rome and born within the emperor’s lineage?  If God is going to transform the world, don’t we need the assistance of those insiders on Wall Street (financiers), Pennsylvania Avenue (politicians), and certainly K Street (lobbyists)?

This was brought back to mind this week, when Leonard Sweet’s text message came across my phone’s screen this week.  Len’s tweet was Where are the Wise Men? Are they disappearing from Xmas story? Particularity=Jewish Messiah. Magi open us to Universality: Savior of World. That’s right I thought, without the Magi (and the shepherds) we outsiders do not have a chance at this flesh and blood Savior born among us.

Continue reading “Kings Journey (Matthew 2:1-12)”

Kings Journey (Matthew 2:1-12)

Angel Announces – Mary Sings – Joseph Prays – Shepherds Come – God with Us – KINGS JOURNEY

I have observed that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who think there are two kinds of people and people who do not.  It is in our very nature to divide between us and them, winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, State and Carolina, ECU and any ACC or instate school, rich and poor, those born below the Mason-Dixon line and those born above the line, etc. (help me out with your divisions of the world).  Just one more observation, if you are worshiping with us on this one of the lowest attendance Sundays of the year, you are the ultimate insider.

(North Point Community Church outside of Atlanta does not have worship celebrations on the last Sunday of the year to give their 1000+ volunteers a break.  When I brought this up with my staff they thought this would be a great model to follow, but others disagreed.  Most of the dyed in the wool Christians I know consider cancelling Sunday worship a heresy, excepting for snow or others “acts of God.”  I mean if its Sunday then we are … playing some football right?)

I bring this to our attention because most the lessons about Jesus’ birth are about establishing his insider status among God’s chosen sons and daughters.  The “Scandal of Particularity” is that God became flesh and blood and moved into the backwater towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth, in the backwater province of Judea on the edge of the mighty Roman empire.  If God were planning to transform the whole world (see John 3:16, “for God so loved the world …), then the plan seems inverted.  Wouldn’t have made sense to have God’s child show up in Rome and born within the emperor’s lineage?  If God is going to transform the world, don’t we need the assistance of those insiders on Wall Street (financiers), Pennsylvania Avenue (politicians), and certainly K Street (lobbyists)?

This was brought back to mind this week, when Leonard Sweet’s text message came across my phone’s screen this week.  Len’s tweet was Where are the Wise Men? Are they disappearing from Xmas story? Particularity=Jewish Messiah. Magi open us to Universality: Savior of World. That’s right I thought, without the Magi (and the shepherds) we outsiders do not have a chance at this flesh and blood Savior born among us.

Continue reading “Kings Journey (Matthew 2:1-12)”

Kings Journey (Matthew 2:1-12)

Angel Announces – Mary Sings – Joseph Prays – Shepherds Come – God with Us – KINGS JOURNEY

I have observed that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who think there are two kinds of people and people who do not.  It is in our very nature to divide between us and them, winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, State and Carolina, ECU and any ACC or instate school, rich and poor, those born below the Mason-Dixon line and those born above the line, etc. (help me out with your divisions of the world).  Just one more observation, if you are worshiping with us on this one of the lowest attendance Sundays of the year, you are the ultimate insider.

(North Point Community Church outside of Atlanta does not have worship celebrations on the last Sunday of the year to give their 1000+ volunteers a break.  When I brought this up with my staff they thought this would be a great model to follow, but others disagreed.  Most of the dyed in the wool Christians I know consider cancelling Sunday worship a heresy, excepting for snow or others “acts of God.”  I mean if its Sunday then we are … playing some football right?)

I bring this to our attention because most the lessons about Jesus’ birth are about establishing his insider status among God’s chosen sons and daughters.  The “Scandal of Particularity” is that God became flesh and blood and moved into the backwater towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth, in the backwater province of Judea on the edge of the mighty Roman empire.  If God were planning to transform the whole world (see John 3:16, “for God so loved the world …), then the plan seems inverted.  Wouldn’t have made sense to have God’s child show up in Rome and born within the emperor’s lineage?  If God is going to transform the world, don’t we need the assistance of those insiders on Wall Street (financiers), Pennsylvania Avenue (politicians), and certainly K Street (lobbyists)?

This was brought back to mind this week, when Leonard Sweet’s text message came across my phone’s screen this week.  Len’s tweet was Where are the Wise Men? Are they disappearing from Xmas story? Particularity=Jewish Messiah. Magi open us to Universality: Savior of World. That’s right I thought, without the Magi (and the shepherds) we outsiders do not have a chance at this flesh and blood Savior born among us.

Continue reading “Kings Journey (Matthew 2:1-12)”

God with Us (Matthew 1:23 & John 1:14)

Angel Announces – Mary Sings – Joseph Prays – Shepherds Come – GOD WITH US – Kings Journey

Tonight as we continue our journey of paying attention to the no fear moments of the coming of Jesus into the world I invite us to pause over these two portions of scripture:

  • "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
    which means, 'God is with us'" (Matthew 1:23, NRSV).
  • "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14,  The Message).

I will add the context for these passages below the split, but first I want us to hear again that God in Jesus came among us!  In Jesus we see not only God's presence, but also the affirmation that God likes humanity in general and you in particular.

Much of the time we in the church spend a lot of time criticizing others for being ungodly and forget that Jesus "came among us" which is what our theological word "incarnation" means.  Jesus became (our) flesh and (our) blood to show how much God loves us, not to prove that he was God (I think that that is already known).

We are told that Mary pondered many things on her heart as she witnessed the birth of Jesus.  One of the things I have been pondering most this year is the recurrence of the promise to  "fear not" (KJV) or "do not be afraid" (NRSV).  The question that continues to come to me is this: "Is God looking for people who will look fear in the face and stand firm knowing that God is with us?"

Continue reading “God with Us (Matthew 1:23 & John 1:14)”

God with Us (Matthew 1:23 & John 1:14)

Angel Announces – Mary Sings – Joseph Prays – Shepherds Come – GOD WITH US – Kings Journey

Tonight as we continue our journey of paying attention to the no fear moments of the coming of Jesus into the world I invite us to pause over these two portions of scripture:

  • "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
    which means, 'God is with us'" (Matthew 1:23, NRSV).
  • "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14,  The Message).

I will add the context for these passages below the split, but first I want us to hear again that God in Jesus came among us!  In Jesus we see not only God's presence, but also the affirmation that God likes humanity in general and you in particular.

Much of the time we in the church spend a lot of time criticizing others for being ungodly and forget that Jesus "came among us" which is what our theological word "incarnation" means.  Jesus became (our) flesh and (our) blood to show how much God loves us, not to prove that he was God (I think that that is already known).

We are told that Mary pondered many things on her heart as she witnessed the birth of Jesus.  One of the things I have been pondering most this year is the recurrence of the promise to  "fear not" (KJV) or "do not be afraid" (NRSV).  The question that continues to come to me is this: "Is God looking for people who will look fear in the face and stand firm knowing that God is with us?"

Continue reading “God with Us (Matthew 1:23 & John 1:14)”

God with Us (Matthew 1:23 & John 1:14)

Angel Announces – Mary Sings – Joseph Prays – Shepherds Come – GOD WITH US – Kings Journey

Tonight as we continue our journey of paying attention to the no fear moments of the coming of Jesus into the world I invite us to pause over these two portions of scripture:

  • "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
    which means, 'God is with us'" (Matthew 1:23, NRSV).
  • "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood" (John 1:14,  The Message).

I will add the context for these passages below the split, but first I want us to hear again that God in Jesus came among us!  In Jesus we see not only God's presence, but also the affirmation that God likes humanity in general and you in particular.

Much of the time we in the church spend a lot of time criticizing others for being ungodly and forget that Jesus "came among us" which is what our theological word "incarnation" means.  Jesus became (our) flesh and (our) blood to show how much God loves us, not to prove that he was God (I think that that is already known).

We are told that Mary pondered many things on her heart as she witnessed the birth of Jesus.  One of the things I have been pondering most this year is the recurrence of the promise to  "fear not" (KJV) or "do not be afraid" (NRSV).  The question that continues to come to me is this: "Is God looking for people who will look fear in the face and stand firm knowing that God is with us?"

Continue reading “God with Us (Matthew 1:23 & John 1:14)”

Shepherds Come (Luke 2:8-20)

Angel Announces – Mary Sings – Joseph Prays – SHEPHERDS COME – God with Us – Kings Journey

I joined my son's classmates on Friday to watch The Tale of Despereaux at the local theater. Two lines stood out from this movie about a mouse who decides to be a man ("Are you a mouse or a man the mouse council?" asks him).  The first line was Desperereaux's insight that "A hero doesn't appear until the world really needs one."  How true, and how much are we in search of a hero today?  I remember Drew University's poet laureate introducing the thought of Governor Tom Kean becoming our president with the thought that every institution needs a messiah and asking was Cain Abel?  Americans are in desperate search of a hero or a messiah, and anyone will do as long as the hero does!

The second line was the communal understanding that mice were to "scurry and cower" when presented with certain objects (kitchen knives) or situations (encountering people).  Despereaux is unable to perform these actions because he is a person of the book.  Not any ordinary book, but a book he was to digest (literally) as a test of his mousedom, but chose to digest (metaphorically) the stories of a knight's quest to right a wrong.

Continue reading “Shepherds Come (Luke 2:8-20)”

Joseph Prays (Matthew 1:18-25)

Angel Announces – Mary Sings – JOSEPH PRAYS – Shepherds Come – God with Us – Kings Journey

Have you ever noticed that when all fails, fear can make us a praying person?  As an eight or nine year-old I was leading my brothers on a climb along the river bank of the creek that ran behind our house.  At the time it was an incredible adventure clinging to the steep river bank, struggling with footholds and handholds, and hoping not to get too dirty and face the wrath of mom!  Suddenly I realized that occupying my next handhold was something scaly and brown coiled for an attack!  I dropped into the water (mom's wrath was nothing now) and my brothers and I sprinted to the house so that the snake (whatever kind it was) would not kill us!  Fear will make you a praying person!

As a twenty-one year old while working in western Kenya, I was driving home in a light rain at dusk with Moses, a Maasai leader, and Bob, a retired drag racer.  Driving in Kenya was different, although not as bad as other places.  At the time the saying was: "in Kenya you drive on the left, in Uganda you drive on the right, and in Tanzania you drive wherever you can." The road was flat and straight and I was pushing the diesel-powered Chevy Luv as hard as it would go when Bob suggested that I slow down.  I ignored his advice (it sounded too much like my dad I guess) so he offered it again (and again).

Then I saw what Bob already knew.  The flat road suddenly disappeared from under us and we were descending at a rapid clip down a series of broad curves. I braked and the back of the pick-up went one way the front the other.  Bob yelled to cut into the spin. "I know" I yelled back.  Then we went the other way cutting and correcting we continued the descent.  All I can tell you about that few seconds was that Moses traveled the yellow line all the way down the mountain and Bob and I seemed to have alternated hitting every ditch.  I yelled at Bob as the road leveled out "what was that?"  He replied, "you just came down off the top of an extinct volcano."  Fear will make you a praying person!

Continue reading “Joseph Prays (Matthew 1:18-25)”

Mary Sings (Luke 1:39-56)

Angel Announces – MARY SINGS – Joseph Prays – Shepherds Come – God with Us – Kings Journey

This week we continue the journey of God's people to the manger of Bethlehem.  Last week we recalled Luke's story of how Mary received a word from God through the angel Gabriel that she was: (1) not to fear because she has found favor with God, (2) going to bring God's son into the world to show God's identification with those created in God's-self image (Imago Dei), and (3) that this son would be fully human (100% human) and fully divine (100% God).

This week we turn to Mary's encounter with her older cousin Elizabeth.  Gabriel consoled Mary as he announced that she would give birth with the news that Elizabeth and Zechariah, who many thought would never be able to have children, had been already blessed with the coming birth of a son.  When Mary comes for a visit, the child leaps in Elizabeth's womb and a duet for the ages emerges:

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would bee a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Continue reading “Mary Sings (Luke 1:39-56)”

Angel Announces (Luke 1:26-38)

ANGEL ANNOUNCES – Mary Sings – Joseph Prays – Shepherds Come – God with Us – Kings Journey

My son and I were shopping at the Stuff-Mart this week (inspired by Veggie Tales' Madame Blueberry video).  William had some allowance money that was burning a hole in his pocket and he wanted to purchase several toys to round out his collection.  As we were comparing what pieces to buy he matter of factually pointed to one toy and announced: "that's what I am getting for Christmas."  I asked him how he knew this to which he confidently replied: "because its on my list."  When I asked with whom he had shared his list he said: "I'll put it together tomorrow!"  Now that's confidence!

Today we begin telling the familiar story of the Incarnation ("God becoming flesh and blood and moving into our neighborhood" as Eugene Peterson puts it).  This story begins with the angel Gabriel stepping into the life of a teenage girl named Mary living in the tiny village of Nazareth located in the outer limits of the King Herod's Judea, a backwater place within the mighty Roman empire.  This is how Luke tells the story:

Continue reading “Angel Announces (Luke 1:26-38)”