Tuesday, 16 December 2014

An Angel Comes to Mary and Joseph

An Angel Comes to Mary and Joseph
Matthew 1-2; Luke 2

            An angel spoke to Mary that she would bear the Son of God.
An angel came to Joseph  in a dream to keep Mary as his intended wife because the baby she was now carrying was not his but the Son of God. An angel tells the shepherds not to be afraid because what they want to share with them is that Jesus is born. Jesus, the One whom God sent to save the people. But who is Joseph and Mary and just what was their relationship before angels were involved?
            Mary was a young girl- early teenager- who was engaged to Joseph a carpenter. Joseph found out that she was pregnant and knowing that he was not the father had planned to break off the marriage. Under many circumstances this sounded reasonable. But during his sleep- not when he is fully aware, but when resting an angel tells him about Mary and God’s involvement in her pregnancy. He is told to take Mary as his wife and they are to become a family. He is told the truth and this made a difference in Jesus’ life as he was raised. Joseph is a good and faithful man. Mary and Joseph do have other children but Joseph is a righteous and good man as he takes upon himself, the wonder and joy of raising Jesus from an infant- protecting him and teaching him his faith.
            Mary’s conception of Jesus as a virgin fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. “Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel- God is with us.” But is it really important to people today of the relationship Mary and Joseph had before his birth? 
Isaiah prophesied many years before that God would send a messiah to save His people from their sins. As Jesus’ birth story is told there are many details which reveal God’s love for us as He planned Jesus\ incarnation to be the birth event to note; just like God planned Jesus’ death as the One to experience. Because Jesus rises to new life there is hope in all things. But we must choose. As we anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ birth this Christmas are you preparing yourself for the peace which comes in Christ or are you walking a different road away from the manger? Advent is about a choice in how we live personally and individually, nationally and internationally—how we share the peace of Christ with our brothers and sisters around the world..

A country Christmas song is entitled, “There’s a New Kid in Town”. The chorus
has the following lyrics:

There's a new kid in town
And he's lying in a manger down the road
There's a new kid in town
But he's just another baby I suppose
Heaven knows
There's a new kid in town
Here in Bethlehem

A question raised is—is Jesus the new baby born in Bethlehem- just another baby? Or does this Baby- this Infant Holy, hold a special place in your heart and life as your Saviour? This is Jesus- the promised messiah born for you.. How will you respond?

Holy God we praise you for Jesus, born in a stable loved by Joseph and Mary and recognized by others as a special infant—not just another baby-. Help us O God to worship and praise you as we strive to understand why you gave us Jesus. Help us to live and love him as we learn more about his life and teachings. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This reflection is based upon ideas of by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan.  The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really teach About Jesus’ Birth. New York: Harper One,1989, p.99-127, ch.5.

Please note: there will not be a reflection on Dec 24 31. Enjoy your Christmas time and reflect on God’s wonderful gift to you! Next reflection will continue with this book and on Christ’s light.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Into What Context Did Jesus Arrive?

Into What Context Did Jesus Arrive?
Matthew 1-2; Luke 2

What was the world like when Jesus was born?
  That is, the matrix of text and context when we hear the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth. There was a clash between the kingdom of Rome and the kingdom of God. The Roman kingdom is overwhelming in its military, economy, political and ideological power. And as we look at the kingdom of God in this first century CE there is much to be determined.
            Caesar Augustus was entitled Lord, Son of God, Bringer of Peace and Saviour of the World by self- proclamation and use of the kingdom’s people.
But the words of the angels give Jesus these names and more—Son of the Most High, Son of God, (Nazareth 1:32,35) Saviour, Lord and Peace- (2:11,14). And then we see the response of Roman rule onto Galilee, who is this Jesus?
            Even the genealogies that Matthew and Luke state differ in their location and direction. Matthew’s genealogy comes at the start of Jesus’ public life after his baptism and outside the birth story. Luke starts with Jesus and goes backwards to Adam but no mothers are mentioned. Why are these details important to our understanding of the infant in the stable?
            Some would say it does not matter for if we truly have faith and believe in the incarnation of Chrsit, God descending to earth as a human baby, God had it planned out where, when and through whom. Prophets had lined up what was to come and  history was lived out as God intended from Adam to Jesus. Yet there are those who cannot believe that God would have planned history after giving to humans, the gift of reasoning, thinking and discernment. But what about you?
            Have you thought about he contextual matrix—the time period into which Jesus came? How necessary was it that the Jewish people needed a messiah? What about the Gentiles? Were lives threatened because of uncertainty of faith in God? Why was Jesus born then? Herod seemed threatened by the birth of this infant and even asked the Wise Men to find the baby and report back to where He was. But these men were wise and knew that Herod really just wanted to kill the baby. He was afraid of the newborn king, born of the Jews,
            Not only was Jesus born to Mary and Joseph away from the familiar community where family and friends lived, he was born during a time when the ruling Caesar felt threatened by a helpless dependent infant. When Jesus was born the time was right. Prophecy had been fulfilled, The Wise Men had witnessed a star which was a sign for them of the new messiah. And when God had spoken to Mary- it was real. She really was pregnant and she was carrying God’s Son, the Saviour

Mary was chosen to bear Jesus. Joseph had to be told to stay with Mary and everything would be all right. Their faith lead them throughout this whole process parenthood, marriage and living God’s way while raising a family, and particularly God’s Son. Do you think Jesus’ birth occurring in any other time than 1st century Roman Empire/Jerusalem state have the same outcome- of Jesus’ crucifixion /death and resurrection? Why?
 We anticipate Jesus’ coming again- but he will not come as an infant but in all his glory as God’s Son. Will we know him?  Did Mary really know what her Son would experience in his life?

God of Advent and Christmas we praise you for your gift to us in Jesus. Help us to understand the world into which Jesus was born over 2000 years ago. Help us to understand our world today when we anticipate again the celebration of Emmanuel—God with Us.
Bless us in this journey we call Advent waiting and preparation. Show us your way to love and live as faithful believers of the One born to us in Bethlehem, died on a cross and rose to new life through the resurrection. Hear our prayers we ask. Amen

This reflection is based upon ideas of by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan in  The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really teach About Jesus’ Birth. New York: Harper One,1989, p.81-98, ch.4.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Nativity Story

The Nativity Story
Matthew 1-2
            We have begun the season of the church year called Advent
which calls us to wait and to prepare for Jesus’ birth into our lives. Advent is a time when we look to the story prior to the manger scene and yet reflect upon the Child who was placed in a feed trough and lived a human life. We also must reflect not only Jesus birth but his purpose in life as the one who would die for our sake.
            The two stories of the first Christmas as recorded in Matthew and Luke are different from each other in length, content and narrative. Yet together these two accounts tell us the story of Jesus’ earthly beginnings not as a king who lived in a palace, but a baby born to poor human parents who were away from home and who stayed in a barn.
            Matthew begins his narrative with Jesus’ genealogy of forty generations so that we might understand that the ancestors of Jesus were followers of God and lived a life of faith. Following this list, Matthew tells the story in short paragraphs filled with much detail. Mary was pregnant, engaged to Joseph but had not lived together. Joseph thought about divorcing her but he did not on the advice of an angel who told him through a dream who the baby really was.  Joseph is the key role in this scene and is it Joseph who makes a decision- to keep Mary as his wife, accept the baby as God’s Son and to live a righteous life knowing that God knew him.
            Matthew then skips from this scene focusing on Joseph to King Herod who hears of a new born king and he is threatened. Wise men from the East search for him in Jerusalem and the King sends them to Bethlehem. This is the beginning of Herod’s plot to rid the kingdom of a rival king. Eventually the Magi find Mary and Joseph and the baby in a house and they honour the baby with special gifts.
            The action then skips back to Joseph having another dream with an angel telling him to move his family to Egypt as King Herod plots to kill him. The family lives in Egypt until Herod dies. After his death, Joseph again has a dream and they return to the district of Galilee settling in a town Nazareth.
            Matthew’s version of the story does not include the details of why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem. There is no shepherds, stable or singing angels. There is the story of angels and Joseph and the birth of a baby which triggers Wise Men to travel to worship him which leads the family to live in Egypt.

What do we learn from Matthew’s story of the First Christmas? It is similar to the story of Moses early beginnings with an evil ruler Herod or Pharaoh plotting to kill new born males. From the beginning of his life, Jesus was already the new Moses and this is a major clue to Matthew’s Christmas story. Matthew tells the story from Joseph’s point of view- whether he should marry Mary, listen to the angels’ voices or to walk away. And Matthew likes dreams and angels to move the story along in order to keep Jesus safe and to return his family to Nazareth where Jesus was raised into adulthood.

            As we read through this narrative what is it that we feel, think and learn about Jesus? What do we know about Joseph and Mary as his parents and what do we hold on to?  Joseph was a righteous man and when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy he was devastated. Only an angel  could calm him down and explain the truth of the baby. Only an angel could guide Joseph which enabled prophecy to be fulfilled. And only God saw the story unfold this way.
            How do you respond to Matthew’s Christmas story? Joseph played a key role in this portion of the story of Jesus’ birth. Where would you put yourself into the story to fully understand what God did in order to keep Jesus alive even at his birth?

Placing yourself in Matthew’s Christmas story often leads us to the role of an observer of an action story. The narrative is short and concise. Joseph, angels and King Herod are hero, assistant and villain and yet when we read the prophecy, Jesus was to come from Egypt and become a Nazarene. Prophecy was fulfilled in this narrative. How do you thank God for his gift to us in Jesus?

Holy God we praise you and thank you for the stories of Christmas from Matthew and Luke. As we read Matthew’s story we cannot help but thank you for sending your angels to speak to Joseph to guide the wise men and to call Joseph to move his family to safety. Why this family had to endure so much in the early stages of being a family is difficult to comprehend but we know many people today struggle with family situations not of kings wanting to kill their babies, but seeking the necessary elements of life and security for their families. We pray O God for families in situations where there is not enough- food, support or assistance in daily living. We pray O God and we offer to you our thoughts for those in need whom we know and those we do not know. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.   

This reflection is based upon some thoughts offered by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan in  The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really teach About Jesus’ Birth. New York: Harper One,1989, p.4-8, 41-45.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Trusting a Sovereign God

Trusting a Sovereign God

            This past Sunday we honoured and celebrated Jesus as the king
of kings and that God is the one who rules in the hearts of those who believe. Reign of Christ Sunday gathers all the ideas of Jesus birth, death and resurrection together and invites us into honour and worship Jesus who is the Promised Son of God who came and continues to be present in our live.
            As Gary Inrig has written in “True North” we should be focusing our entire lives on God who directs our lives. But we must trust in God to show us what to do and how to do it.
            Hebrews 11 gives account of many people who lived lives of faith. They were not exempt from trouble and suffering, but who lived loving God. Yet all were commended for their faith and yet none of them received what had been promised- God had planned something better (Hebrews 11:32-39) Even for Gideon, God planned more but he too needed to live by faith in Him. But what do we learn from this passage?
            People of faith receive God’s approval regardless of present outcomes. People of faith trust God’s purposes. People of faith await God’s reward. And what is this reward? To know and understand and receive the promises of God in Christ. We are forgiven, born into God’s forever family and have the Spirit within us but we are not yet home. One day we will return to God and we will see God. But we must have this heart-deep confidence in God who loves us and gave Jesus His Son.

            Inrig’s book invited us to use navigational tools to reference our God, His Son and theSpirit moving in us to a clearer understanding of faith and being faithful. Today all we need to do is ‘google for maps/ directions’ and find out where we need to drive. But in faith, what we still need is God- guiding us and showing us the way. Generations of explorers traveled to places unknown with only a few tools. They were the ones to draws the maps and yet they trusted that there journey was not in vain.
            Using maps and the Bible we too live a journey filled with many exciting and wonderful opportunities, but we focus on the One who will guide us further than we think it is possible. Let us discover Christ who calls us by faith, to love, love and reach out to others. .

REFLECTION:  By faith we have learned many things about our God and about ourselves. What does this mean to you? How do you understand navigating your way with God as your Morning Star, Christ your compass and truly trusting the Spirit to sail into your life?

Loving God bless us we pray as we strive to live by faith in this world where knowing you is not easy; searching for you is welcomed, and reaching out in your name is a gift. Enable us to grow in faith for you as we discover our way of living –today and in days ahead. Amen.

This reflection is based upon some ideas offered by Gary Inrig in his book, True North: Discovering God’s Way in a Changing World,  Discovery House Publishers, 2002; ch.12

Watch for a new series beginning next week!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

By Faith Alone

“By Faith Alone”
Hebrews 11

            Nothing else matters- if you cannot breathe. This is the  Gary Inrig describes this oxygen as essential to life. He also states, “The life of faith is the only life that pleases God, and nothing else matters if faith is missing.” No matter how many navigational devices may be present in our lives, if we lack faith, we lack the necessity for life
advertising carried out by the lung associations in the support of people who are unable to breathe due to asthma, bronchitis or serious lung disease. When flying in an airplane it is very important that oxygen be present in the passenger cabins as oxygen is essential for breathing and breathing is essential for life.
Hebrews 11 gives examples of those who lived many years ago but still have a message for God’s children. Each person who acted and served God by faith and through their actions were considered righteous and faithful in God’s sight. Abel, Enoch,Noah- each of these men’s stories is a story of faith. Abel- making an offering from his heart.  
Enoch lived 64 years and we know nothing of him. At the birth of his son at age 65 he walked with God. He pleased God and was taken. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”(Genesis 5:21-24)
Noah lived when people were wicked and evil but he was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time and he walked with God. He was called to build the ark and he worked building the barge as God had instructed him. And by faith God cared for him. To Noah, having faith means building the boat before the rain begins. Taking God at his word and stepping out and acting on the basis of God’s word.
Jesus comments about faith—“Jesus was amazed by their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:6) and in \Luke 7:9-“I have not found such great faith even in Israel”—the faith of a Roman centurion whose servant was deathly ill.  In these statements he sees both the abundant and the lack of faith. What would Jesus be amazed at in your life?—belief or unbelief. By faith what are you doing for God; who are you becoming by faith? 

By faith we live following God’s guidance. But do we have authentic faith that is faith that comes from within and that we may call our own? Many people today say I have faith because of my grandmother/ mother/ father/ but am unsure of what I believe. Have you discerned what you believe based on your ideas about God in your life? Has this changed through your years of believing?  How and were these changes good?

By faith, we praise you, we love you and we serve you. Hold us in your hand, strengthen us and catch us when we are weak. For by faith we believe help our unbelief to know and grow. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This reflection is based upon some ideas offered by Gary Inrig in his book, True North: Discovering God’s Way in a Changing World,  Discovery House Publishers, 2002; ch.10

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

What is our Plimsoll line or Load line for Safe Living?

“What is our Plimsoll line or Load line for Safe Living?”

            Gary Inrig uses navigational principles of the North Star as
well as scripture prayer and the conscience to reflect upon how and what we see and need as God’s ways of living. But at some point in our lives we will wonder to what extent are we to pursue secular matters that is, what is our limit? That is how will we arrive safely at our destination unless we understand God’s Plimsoll line? Just what is our load limit as we sail along in our daily living?
            How content are we when we live a society that is built on chronic and compulsive consumerism. The issues of contentment, covetousness, character are among the most pressing we confront as we seek to navigate our culture. Why is it that we are unsure of who we are and the direction in which we sail even though Christ has called us to follow him? What is really calling to us is from this world. This call is in:
Covetousness- wanting what others posses; money is base but so are things and our society says you want/ need more! But covetousness corrupts our view of God’s truth, contaminates our values and capsizes our lives.(I Timothy 6:3-9)
Contentment or authentic spirituality which is an inner attitude of reverence and respect that is expressed in outward acts It is having security in God.
Character—Paul directs Timothy from covetousness toward contentment by having him pursue godly character. Pursue—this is over and in time but are we really willing to invest this time; that is to pursue what God has in store for us as we learn and grow spiritually?.(I Timothy 4:7-8)
Just what is the load limit that we may carry in order to prevent dangerous overloading with things. When is too much even way more than enough? And how do we change this attitude, this way of living, and this life of possessiveness? 
Inrig suggests:  1) develop a lifestyle of limits, not luxury
2) Cultivate generosity, not greed 3) Emphasize personal wroth rather than net worth and 4) Invest in the eternal, not just the temporal
And to follow up on these suggestions remember that you are not alone as you do this; God is with you; Christ leads you and you are led by the Spirit.

            REFLECTION:  Read Inrig’s suggestions to help understand our load limits as we sail along this life. Do you find any of these suggestions is more difficult than the rest to understand and implement in your life? How do you respond to the rest? What does a load limit mean for you as you pursue faith development and personal growth in your work and with family? How important is it to say when enough is enough?

Gracious God you enable us to do many things but we often do not know when enough is too much. Help us to realize that you will not give us too much to do alone. You are always with us as we discern your gift of love in Jesus. Be with us we pray. Amen.

This reflection is based upon some ideas offered by Gary Inrig in his book, True North: Discovering God’s Way in a Changing World,  Discovery House Publishers, 2002; ch.6