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Archive for December, 2017

Fifth Business

Simeon and Anna have been called what folks familiar with plays and drama call, ‘fifth business”.  They are not the tar of the show or the lead or even major players, but they appear at a place and time that make the drama move forward.  Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis, has been apart of our worship since at least the 4th century.  Simeon means “God has heard”.  Waiting for the consolation of Israel and filled with Holy Spirit He preaches.

According to Luther –

The patriarch Simeon steps up, even though by virtue of age he can scarcely see his way, and with penetrating clarity of discernment recognizes and praises this child as the Savior and Light of the World. All emperors, kings, and sovereigns are mere darkness, but this child is the Light of the World. All the world is subjugated under death and damnation, but through this child the world will obtain salvation. This child, in short, is the one whom the prophets foretold. The words of the Evangelist are very apt, but Simeon, no doubt, has fine-etched them. It was a sermon, says the Evangelist, that caused the child’s father and mother to marvel about the child. The thought that he was to be a light unto the Gentiles was not understood clearly from the words of the angels until Simeon spoke. The other people who were in the temple likely despised Simeon’s speech as the words of a fool, or they judged him to be drunk, or eccentric by virtue of his age, a foolish old man. How could this little child be the Savior and Light of the World when he had nothing but ordinary swaddling clothes and his mother had scarcely a farthing in her purse. No doubt the rest of the people would have disdained the words of aged Simeon as though he were merely beating the wind. But Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said of the child.

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The Old Canard

Every few years the old story is given a political twist and used to manipulate something or someone.  The story of Mary and Joseph and the a baby born in a stable is used to push some agenda or another usually about the homeless and the hungry.  The Pope dragged it out again and identified The Holy Family with the migrant waves that are moving across the globe and that they arrived in a land that had no room for them.  There are enough Biblical mandates to care for the hungry and homeless and the alien that we don’t have to make up stories and about Mary and Joseph.  Once again we have to set the record straight.  A radio announcer talked about this the other day and he made more sense.  If the Pope was talking about the journey to Bethlehem, the Holy Family were not migrants, they were the victims of bad timing and overarching government.  They had to leave the town of Nazareth and travel to their home town because they were being taxed.  The King James is at least honest.  Other translations call it a census.  The only reason a government takes a census is for taxation.  The arrived and had no place to stay because Joseph probably forgot a reservation.  They were not poor and homeless.  Joseph had a job that he had to leave for a time to walk 100 miles to sign up to be taxed.  They didn’t stay in a barn long, Joseph was able to find lodging in a house somewhere because that is where they are when the Wise Men show up.

If the Pope is talking about the fight to Egypt that is a different thing, and with the state of reporting today the article about the Pope’s comments are not all that clear.  King Herod wanted Jesus dead and he begins the slaughter of all the babies under the age of two.  Mary and Joseph and the baby flee to Egypt having been warned in a dream and in that sense they were political refugees.  I have always been caught in a conundrum here because I am a child of the culture.  On the one hand I am offended that the Pope and politicians use Jesus in political ways as if equating Him with the homeless will somehow help the homeless.  At the same time I am offended that we have to take the real politics out of our religious discussion because after all, “religion is private”.  The flight to Egypt by the Holy Family dispenses with this nonsense and show that the birth of Jesus is a very public threat to principalities and powers and Kings.  Jesus is born in the circumstances He was because of government fiat and a very public government action.  He has to flee because of the political calculation that the death of hundreds of baby boys is expedient that this one child not live.  Fredrick Dale Brunner wrote that the Herod’s of this world hate this child Jesus, and they ending up murdering children.

Frederick Dale Bruner, 2004. The Christbook: Matthew 1–12. Revised edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

 

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There Might Be Grinches…

 

There are twelves days of Christmas and I am not sure which day this is but Christmas is still going on.  I have never paid much attention to the Grinch from the old Dr. Suess book but there might be Grinches; real ones.  I have recently heard about a Congressman who I believe has either lost his mind or is a real life Grinch.  After the announcement of the passage of the Tax Bill, AT&T announced that it would be given all of it’s employees a $1000 bonus.  The congressman was so incensed that he called for a boycott of AT&T and it’s products.

Why would a so called servant of the people do something that a few years ago would be political suicide?  Has the idea that all money belongs to the Government and they will dole it out the way they see fit taken over to a point that a good thing, like a raise for ordinary folk is considered a problem, or treason?   What kind of political philosophy must you have to be angry when people either get more money, of get to keep more of the money they have.

Part of the idea might be that like the Grinch, there is a distain for folks who need to make due with what they have while the government can never do without.  Do we really need 17 different intelligence agencies.  Can anyone really argue that we could cut that in half and save that money and that would really be a tax cut.  It may never happen but we have a start.  In the meantime we might have a real tax cut if congressmen like that were never returned to their seats again.

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Christmas Memories

 

A rogue toddler reportedly stole the baby Jesus at a Christmas Program in Tennessee.

I remembered something on the way to one of my churches for the Christmas Eve Service.  I happened long ago and I was probably in the 5th grade.  We were worshipping in an old Baptist church we rented in Leadville CO.  It was old and cold and heated by a coal oil stove.  It had the baptistery open pool for dunking and that is where our Christmas pageant was held.  Mary and Joseph and the baby in the manger were down in front of me.  Shepherds with wooly sheep and crooks were below me to the right and I was an angel standing on the pool side looking down saying the Gospel from Luke (we had to memorize in those days).  As the pageant progressed I noticed Mary was getting tired.  She started out strong and was starting to fade.  Soon she took her blanket headscarf off and stood up and kind of stumbled down the steps toward the congregation and her mother.  Joseph looked like he might bolt too, but the mother kept speaking in a loud stage whisper for Mary to “get back to the manger”.  Half way down the aisle she flounced around and went back to the manger, grabbed baby Jesus by the arm, and dragged Him bumping down the steps and the aisle back to her mother where she declared, “I couldn’t leave Him in the hay”.

It occurred to me on that cold Christmas Eve that Jesus was dragged around quite a bit.  Taken from the manger and moved to a house he is dragged off to the temple to be dedicated and circumcised.  He is dragged off to Egypt when a mad King tries to kill Him.  He is dragged back to Nazareth and dragged to the temple every year by His parents.  He is baptized and according to Mark, pushed into the wilderness to be tempted.  He might just as well have been  dragged.  His ministry is a frenetic travelogue as He is dragged by the will of the Father, and the Father’s business all over the place healing the sick and feeding the hungry, driving out demons, and “doing good”.  Then was dragged off to trial and bumps and bruises and beatings and dragged to a cross where he bled out to be the “atoning sacrifice for our sins”.

It would be nice to leave Him in the hay, but we can’t.  That peaceful Christmas scene changes ferociously soon after the pageant is over.  We need to drag Him around with us into the hospital rooms and the funeral parlors and the disaster areas of our life.  Luther said that Jesus stuck Himself into baptismal waters so that when we are baptized and come out of the water we drag Jesus with us.

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Christmas Morning 2017

It was 17 below zero Christmas morning when I got up to go to church. The only other human being on the road as near as I could tell was the snowplow operator who drove by me on a quiet street. It’s kind of fun to drive through a dark town with the Christmas trees and the lights turned on.  I run a 60 mile course on Sunday’s and I never know what to expect.  It could be like a herd of deer (8 0f them) who nonchalanted across the road in front of me in a rather thick snow cloud, or folks in the ditch because of ice.   This is what I messaged to myself since there had been 6 services on Sunday.

I have three services today, Christmas Day, and of course I’m wondering how many people will be there. Christmas Eve services are usually pretty well attended, the Christmas day not so much. One of the advice givers over the last few weeks said,  “why don’t you just cancel the Sunday morning services and just have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, or cancel the Christmas day services?”  17 below at 6:30 in the morning and that sounds now like good advice. The problem with that is I’m not in the habit of canceling services. Jesus words, where two or three are gathered together in my name ring out, but there is another serious issue that is always in the back of my head; that someone might show up that really needs to hear. Now of course,  somebody will take that the wrong way and say we all need to hear and that is true. But there are times in life where folks get to a point where of the circumstances all come together and they can really hear.  Funerals are times like that. Someone said about preachers at a funeral that you better be ready with the gospel because the funeral is one of the few times you might actually get through to people. I think Christmas is a time like that too. For so many the season of light is really a season of darkness and sadness and if there’s a time when they’re willing to listen and to hear I don’t want to miss it.

This blog is called Northern Crossings because we talk about the ties that bind us together in Northern Minnesota and North Dakota. We embarked on a joint mission project together, and we seem to send Pastor’s willy-nilly back-and-forth across District boundaries with wild abandon. So I was thinking of the brothers in northern Minnesota and all those on the pine to prairie track and the pastors on the North Dakota side who toil along the prairie roads. 17 below can be bracing and I imagine you all out on the roads surrounded by the quiet forest or out on the howling prairie where the wind chases itself back-and-forth up on the paths you travel  I pray you farewell this morning and I pray that you are ready to preach the good news that someone out there is desperately waiting to hear.  The birth of the Savior is nothing but good news.  I pray you remember it is for you too.

I went into the first Church service in the dark and came out to see this.

I guess 17 below has it’s benefits after all.

 

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Merry and Blessed Christmas To All

There are lots of memories over almost fourty years of Christmas worship.  Driving through a blizzard with my brother in the early days coming back from one service and headed for another.  An early Christmas morning when I was tired and turned North toward St. Johns when 8 deer nonchalantly walked across the frozen road in front of my vehicle.  They didn’t run or panic, they ambled across the road as if they knew that on this one morning at least they were safe.

The memories of faces in candle light and the children’s programs of course are always special.  The All Faith’s Chapel Nativity scene stands out as poignant and moving.  Back in the day I was able during drive time to hear the Queens Christmas message on the CBC and that was always fascinating.

It is still the message and the light.  The enfleshment of God, the incarnation, the great exchange of love for sin and darkness can never fade and every year it shines a little brighter.  To you and yours this morning – Merry Christmas.

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Hail Favored One – Luke 1:26-38

To this poor maiden marvelous things were announced: that she should be the mother of the All Highest, whose name should be the Son of God. He would be a King and of his Kingdom there would be no end. It took a mighty reach of faith to believe that this baby would play such a role. Well, Mary might have said, “Who am I, little worm, that I should bear a King?” She shut her eyes and trusted in God who could bring all things to pass, even though common sense were against it; and because she believed, God did to her as he said…. there are here three miracles: that God and man should be joined in this Child, that a mother should remain a virgin; that Mary should have such faith as to believe that this mystery would be accomplished in her. The last is not the least of the three. The Virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin had been chosen to be the mother of God…  Martin Luther

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In the Bleak Midwinter..

2;30 in the morning on the winter solstice, December 21, 2017, the Ursid meteors should be out but I see none.  The moon is getting ready to vacate the sky by Friday.  The sliver of light is beautiful in the vault of the sky and I remember this is the longest night.  It is 5 degrees a few days before Christmas.  “Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone”.  The country side is quiet and seems not quite real.  Milton comes to mind – It was the Winter wilde, While the Heav’n-born-childe, All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;  Nature in aw to him Had doff’t her gawdy trim . . .

“Snow had fallen, snow on snow” and the path I drive is dry, but the excess snow kicks up and out and so to the sides of me a snow fog warps the view and masks the clear crystal view of world.  The road ahead is set and the landscape white and high above, the stars.  I am going to do a difficult and profound thing; pray with a family whose loved one has just died.  The undertaker has not been yet called and soon he will make the same journey I make now.  Will poetry be on his mind?

On this longest night I am going to talk of  life and pray for the brightness of God’s light.

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may, in our sadness at the death of our brother also rejoice at the new life he now lives with you.  Cause the light of your Christ to shine in our hearts that we may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; for He lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And yet Hardy comes mind as well – “So savage winter catches, the breath of limber things,  And what I love he snatches,  And what I love not, brings”.

“Heaven cannot hold Him, nor the earth contain.  Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes again”.  Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead, but when He came to this earth He came to take on our form and carry our sins.  The bleak winter gave way to the peace and mercy of God the Father and the gift He gave.

This is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav’ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

So on this dark road under the frozen stars I plan to recite to those to whom I travel the news of angels – unto you has been born a Savior, Christ the Lord.  In the bleak mid winter life came to give you and yours – Life.

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It’s That Time of the Year.

The “season of light”, we call it and for good reason.  After all the nonsense we read and hear and put up with everyday, there are moments that take us back and lift us up and set our minds right; even if for just a moment.  All of the emotions are honest.  This is cute and sweet and the children might be embarrassed in 10 years if they see the pictures.  Every time I witness one of these I think the same way – cute and sweet and honest.  Then my mind moves back to a real baby lying in a real manger.  God in the flesh.  God come to our world to be one of us.  What was the point?

In 1519, when he was writing a treatise on Holy Communion, Luther said, “Christ, by His love, takes upon Himself our form, strives with us against sin, death, and all evil: This enkindles in us such love that we take His form, rely on His righteous life and blessedness, and through the interchange of His blessings and our misfortunes, we are one loaf, one bread, one body, one drink, and have all things in common.”

And a little later he writes  this breathtaking  passage – “Again, through this same love, we are to be changed and to make the infirmities of all other Christians our own, take upon ourselves their form and their necessity, and all the good that is within our power, we are to make theirs, that they may enjoy it. In this way, we are changed into one another and brought into fellowship with one another by love, without which there can be no such change.”

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Advent Devotions from Kenya – Gabriel’s Announcement

A HUMBLE SERVANT And Mary said, “Behold I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word.” Luke 1:38
Imagine the anticipation and excitement building in the hearts of the people of God throughout the world during this Advent season. Advent means “coming;” in a few days Christmas will be here and once again we will celebrate the birth and first coming of Jesus Christ.
In today’s text we hear the angel announcing to Mary, “you will be with child and give birth to a Son and you are to give him the name Jesus” (v.31) the name Jesus means the Savior. Jesus was born of Virgin Mary, suffered and died on the cross to save us from our sins and to fulfill all that was prophesied of Him. He came to establish the throne of His father David and He is now King of Kings and Lord of Lords – ruler over the entire world.
The angel Gabriel announced Jesus’ birth to Mary who responds in faith. Through the announcement of the Gospel, the Lord likewise calls us to faith and to bear Christ not as our child, but as the Holy one of God – our Savior.
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Most merciful God, who hast given Your eternal Word to be made incarnate of the pure Virgin, grant unto Your people grace to put away fleshly lusts that so we may be ready for Your visitation; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.
There is an old saying, “like father, like son.” Here we see, “like Son, like mother.” Unlike her promised son, Mary knew she was not perfect, she saw herself as a sinner and unworthy of what the angel Gabriel had just announced to her. Yet, she submitted to the Lord’s will, trusted and followed the word of the Lord, and humbly confessed she was the Lord’s servant.
What does it mean to be a servant? We don’t have to look any further than to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6 -8) What great love the sinless Jesus had for us sinners that He would leave His Heavenly throne for a manger, be despised, rejected, and die on the cross because it was His Father’s will. As God looked with favor on His servant Mary so He looked with favor on His Son’s humility and obedience and “for our sake made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
As we ready ourselves, our families, and homes to celebrate anew the birth of Jesus Christ may we like Mary humble ourselves before God and in true obedience and faith trust His will and say with confidence, “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord; let your will be done according to Your word.”

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