Tag Archives: Nicodemus

Stage 2 of Faith Development: Checking it out

given on Sunday, May 7, 2017:  Mini-series on the Four Stages of Faith Development

Scripture Connections:

Luke 10:38-42, NLT

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

John 2:23-John 3, NLT

23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. 24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. 25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,[a]you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.[b] Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.[c] So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony.12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?13 No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man[e] has come down from heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.[f]

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[g] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.[h]

John 10:1-10, NLT (from the Lectionary)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me[a] were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.[b] They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

John 20:24-29, NLT

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[a] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Reflection: Stage 2 of Faith: Checking it out. . .

Who would have ever believed we could have seven inches of rain in just three days! We are so fortunate not to have the long-lasting effects that so many are experiencing along the small rivers and tributaries in the southern areas of our state. Yet, in the middle of the mind-numbing videos of flooding pops up surprising and unbelievable are stories of survival. What seems impossible to believe is real and God has to be present through it all.

Faith is believing what you do not see. The floodwaters are what we see; but even as the water recedes, we watch to see the reality of what remains. In the middle of last weekend’s storm, we drove past a garden that we knew had been planted, was growing well and was well-tended.

The muddy, floodwater so completely covered the garden that there was not even a clue that the rows of seedlings were even there. I wondered if there was any chance that the garden would survive. Yet nature is resilient, and as I drove past that garden just three days later, the seedlings were once again standing up and reaching for the sunlight.

Checking out something that seems impossible to believe for one’s self is part of faith development. I could not believe that the force of the floodwaters would leave that garden in tact, but when I checked it out, I confirmed what I thought I knew. The same need to check out Jesus’ story is the second stage of faith development.

The story continues to be shared and preserved. Yet, the story of Jesus’ resurrection left so many and still leaves so many with questions. How do you believe something that goes against everything we know. When the body dies, there is no way that three days later it can be missing, much less alive. Even the closest disciples had to run to the tomb and see it with their very own eyes.

And even then, the reaction was of disbelief and fear. There was no rational explanation. Jesus’ appearance as recorded in the gospels provided the disciples proof. Now two thousand years later, we must depend on the words preserved in the Bible to assure us of the truth.

To continue developing one’s faith, checking it out and learning about Jesus is simply part of the process of becoming Christ-like. Look at the stories of all Jesus’ contemporaries and how they had to check out The Story:

  1. Mary and Martha knew Jesus personally and valued that friendship. Yet even Martha struggled to follow the cultures custom of hospitality while Mary ignored those expectations and sat at his feet to learn more of his teachings (Luke 10:38-42)
  2. Consider, too, Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader. Something about Jesus and his message/ministry seemed impossible to believe, so he went under the cover of night to talk directly to Jesus. He had to check it out for himself. (John 12:23-3:21)
  3. Finally, Thomas the Apostle had questions. Even after the crucifixion and the resurrection, Thomas struggled to believe what seemed impossible. Jesus understood that uncertainty and stood before him with the open wounds in his hands, side and feet so Thomas could touch them and believe. (John 20:24-29)

Story after story in the Gospels show how people, whether faithful Jews, Gentiles, Roman citizens, or pagans, heard about Jesus and his message/ministry and still struggled to believe.

Change is difficult and then to have this man say he was the Son of God defied, and continues to defy, what humans know to be true. There is no guilt is questioning the reality of The Story, and checking it out is part of learning the truth. Reading the Bible, studying it in community, researching more about the story, and even testing the New Covenant in today’s world is part of faith development.

Whether we are Mary, Martha, Nicodemus or Thomas, we have heard The Story and believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We continue to seek for better understanding so we can grow in our faith. As modern disciples, we do the best we can to live our faith so others may see faith in action.

John Wesley, the son of a preacher, followed his father into the ministry. He was raised knowing the Story, and even he struggled to understand. He continued preaching and searching for answers; and on May 24, 1738, he reported to his brother Charles that “his heart was strangely warmed” (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999) which is referred to as Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience:

About a quarter before nine, while he [a Moravian, reading from Martin Luther’s work] was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. 

The brazier’s house was but a few steps away, and John Wesley hastened thither to hail his brother with the rapturous words, “I believe,” and to join him in singing the new hymn, Where shall my wondering soul begin. . . (Chapter VII: The New Birth 1999)

Today we continue our own practices in faith. We attend Sunday worship, we read the Bible, we meet with small groups, we worship, and we serve. Or do we? The impossible-to-believe story may be something we have learned, but are we checking it out and learning the reality of the story?

Wesley’s own experience ignited his own ministry and we follow his methods today to continue in our own faith development. Through his work, we have two sets of guidelines that we can follow to continue developing our own faith: the acts of piety and the acts of mercy. Have we used these tools to grow in our faith?

Personally and communally, Wesley recommends that we follow the practices to grow in our faith as well as to share our faith:

  • Works of Piety
    • Individual Practices– reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
    • Communal Practices– regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study
  • Works of Mercy
    • Individual Practices– doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
    • Communal Practices– seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

Accepting what seems impossible to believe, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation, is the first stage in faith. The second stage is to check out, to learn as much as one can about Jesus Christ and his ministry. As Wesley did, so do we, and in that process we may experience “a heart strangely warmed” too. Wesley’s ministry became inspired, ignited by the Holy Spirit:

Making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is part of a spiritual adventure that is empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as churches engage in the means of grace. Spiritual goals are accomplished by connecting the means of grace with proven vital church practices such as planning, strategic direction, prioritization, clear focus and alignment. (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

As our faith develops, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our faith practices can ignite our own lives and only God knows what seeds of faith grow into.

Today, we join in the service of the cup and the bread. Wesley called communion, or Eucharist, one of the works of piety. As we join together to share the elements, we are joining in the community of believers. The Story continues because we have checked out the story and believe. We join in sharing the bread and the cup because we are part of the Christian community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, almighty,

We know the story. We struggle to believe.

Even Wesley struggled, but he prayed these words:

O, thou Saviour of men, save us from trusting in anything but thee! Draw us after thee. Let us be emptied of ourselves, and then fill us with all peace and joy in believing, and let nothing separate us from thy love in time or eternity.” (The Wesleyan Means of Grace n.d.)

And we join in his words,

Seeking to follow Jesus and all the disciples before us.

Lead us in faith so that we may, too,

Have hearts strangely warmed.

 

As we grow in our faith,

May we follow the examples of your faithful

As we serve one another in love.

In the name of God the creator,

the son Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen

Works Cited

An Account of John Wesley’s Life. General Board of Ministries. 2017. http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/The-Wesleys-and-Their-Times/Account-of-the-Life-of-John-Wesley (accessed May 4, 2017).

Chapter VII: The New Birth. The Wesley Center for Applied Theology. 1999. http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/john-wesley-the-methodist/chapter-vii-the-new-birth/ (accessed May 4, 2017).

The Wesleyan Means of Grace. United Methodist. http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace (accessed May 4, 2017).

 

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Easter Sunday: Who are you?

This sharing of scripture and thoughts ends the Holy Week this Easter Sunday, 2014.  Now Christians have a commandment and a commission to follow.  We need to know who we are to do the best we can.

Who Are You?

 

John 13:33-35 (During the last supper with the Disciples and after Judas left, Jesus went on teaching. . . )

 

“Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

As we sit and look at each other or drive along the highways or rub shoulders in the stores, we see the faces of friends, family, strangers, and even foes. At those moments we register some tiny sense of recognition or evaluation of how they fit into our personal world.

Have you ever considered what others might think that same moment they see you? Would ‘Christian’ be the first descriptor that registers in their mind? Who are you in God’s eye?

Granted we often say we do not care what others think of us, but what if what we do, how we live, or even how we think is the key to whether or not God considers us his disciple?

In my study of these three verses during this past Holy Week, one of the study notes included a checklist of sorts for whether or not we are living this commandment:

Love is more than simply warm feelings; it is an attitude that reveals itself in action. How can we love others as Jesus loves us?

  • By helping when it’s not convenient,
  • by giving when it hurts,
  • by devoting energy to others’ welfare rather than our own,
  • by absorbing hurts from others without complaining or fighting back.

This kind of loving is hard to do. That is why people notice when you do it and know you are empowered by a supernatural source. [p. 1461, The NLT Chronological Study Bible]

 

John 14:15-17 (Jesus continues teaching during that last supper with his disciples.)

 

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. . . . “

 

Who are you? Are you living your life in such a manner that others recognize you as a Christian? Do you know who you are yourself? Are you Peter? Are you Mary Magdalene? Are you Nicodemus? Are you Judas? Are you a Pharisee? Are you Paul, the Jewish leader or the converted Christian missionary? Are you Lazarus? Are you John, the Apostle?

We are asking the same questions today that were asked over 2,000 years ago. If we were walking the dusty paths of our community, would we have recognized Jesus?

Would we have been one of the Jewish faithful still waiting for a Messiah? If we were, wouldn’t we be wanting to hear this man talk? Or would we have looked at him and thought there is no way he could be the new tribal leader.

Would we have judged this man Jesus and his odd set of followers? I certainly cannot imagine what the setting would have been, but today such a person might be traveling in a tour bus or flying from stop to stop. If one man came out of the door and was followed by all these others who did nothing more than what he told them to do or to just sit and listen, I am not sure I would have recognized him.

Would we have been worldly Roman businessmen who happened to be in Jerusalem on business and witness this confusing power play between two religious groups?   If that were the case, would we have stuck to our business meetings and simply ignored the local hubbub or would we have been so curious we checked it out? In our society today, it would be reported on the local news station or posts would popup on Facebook sharing opinions. It would be difficult to hear and to make decisions based on just our own evaluation of the situation.

Who are you today? This Easter morning do you sense the renewal Christ offers us each and every Sunday as we come together for worship? Or do you walk away simply to resume your busy daily life with little regard to spiritual maintenance?

 

John 19:38-42 (The crucifixion was finished, Jesus was dead, and the Sabbath was just about to begin.)

 

Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about 75 pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

 

Who are you? Are you one of the faithful disciples who steps up even after Jesus has been crucified to take care of burial details? Have you been keeping your beliefs hidden? How do you suddenly have the nerve to show your loyalty even after Jesus is dead?

Trying to understand the events that unfolded that fateful Passover week takes knowledge of the Jewish customs and laws as well as the Roman laws. The situation was complicated and trying to fit all the details together is challenging, but Jesus died and on Friday, the day before the Jewish Sabbath, was the only time there was to do the work necessary to complete burial.

The Apostles and those closest to Jesus were all behind closed doors and in shock. Would you have been there with them or would you have been the secret followers who decided to take matters into your own hands and bury Jesus? Who are you?

John 20:1-2 (After Sabbath, the Jewish people resumed the business week on Sunday morning.)

 

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

 

            Jesus’ disciples included women. Mary Magdalene had already used perfume oil to cleanse Jesus’ feet earlier in the week, but she was considered a prominent, even wealthy, businesswoman and disciple. She and the other women, listed in the other gospels got, to work that Sunday morning because that was what was traditional. Some probably just walked away thinking that the trial and crucifixion meant there was nothing more to know. But not Mary; I wonder just how many women knew that Jesus was the Messiah and were strong enough to carry that belief forward even when word got out that the body of Jesus was missing.

Who are you? Just how do others describe you? Is Christian one of the first descriptors? Or do other words come to mind first such as businessman, farmer, professional, friendly, cold, judging, honest, two-faced? The list goes on and on how people describe each other, but the only thing that truly matters is whether all we meet know us as Christians first and foremost.

I want to be there right at Jesus’ feet. I don’t want to do everything he asks, but I am trying to do it anyway. Who I am depends on knowing why the rock was rolled away from the tomb’s door that day when Mary Magdalene arrived there that first Easter morning. I know Jesus lives. I know that God and Jesus are one. And I know that with the Holy Spirit I can deal with the messiness of this world the way God wants me to—by loving one another just as I want to be loved.

Who are we? We are God’s children and are loved by our father beyond our worldly comprehension. We are God’s hands and feet working with and for each other. We are one huge family who meets to worship together. We are one of so many who seek to know God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost so well that we recognize them in every shape, form, and color there is. We are the ones who understand how a rock rolls away from the tomb’s door so Easter morning we are given the gift of eternal life.

 

John 20:11-18 (To end the Easter morning story. . .)

 

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

“Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

 

Closing prayer:

Dear Father,

Dear Jesus,

Dear Holy Ghost,

Praise and thanks we give to you

this Easter morning.

We acknowledge all the work,

all the pain,

and all the heartache

given for our salvation.

Open the hearts of those here

and those not here.

Help each one of us

find ways to model Jesus,

to reach out to those strangers

yet to meet you.

Let this Easter morning

reveal to us our true selves.

Let this Easter morning

show us how your love

is for all people.

Let this Easter morning

refresh our faith,

renew our energy

to be your disciples today. –Amen

 

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Why Christmas?

given on Sunday, November 25, 2012
 

Why Christmas?

Scripture reference:  John 3:1-21, CEB

Have you ever wondered why we have Christmas?  Every year we witness the masses go a little insane as soon as the Thanksgiving dinner table is cleaned off.  The crazy push to have the latest toys, the hottest gifts, and the best Black Friday bargain begins.  Why you may not have even had that afternoon nap to sleep off that last bite of pumpkin pie!

Why do we put ourselves into this crazy frenzy when the ultimate gift was given well over 2,000 years ago?  Is it because we received God’s gift of John 3:16:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.   (CEB)

and now we want to demonstrate the significance of that gift by giving ourselves?

Today is that in-between-time when one holiday is over and the next is about to begin.  We have one extra Sunday before Advent begins, but that has not stopped the 21st century masses of Christmas gift shoppers.  The crowds revealed by the news or by personal experience raced out of the Thanksgiving feast right into the Christmas gift-giving season.  No week of down time between the two, only a maddening pace of consumerism.

Still, I found myself slowing down and thinking about why we go through this annual ritual of celebrating Christmas.  Do we understand why we do it?  Do we just follow the masses blindly into the stores?  Do we acknowledge that Christmas is the representation of God’s greatest gift to his children?

Grace is the basis for God’s gift giving, are we doing the same?  If God cared enough for his children that he decided to send the very best, HIS SON, is our 21st century gift giving the same idea—caring enough to send the best?

I struggle with this every year.  You know–wondering if the gift giving is that important or why it has to be so expensive or why should we even do it.  Why has Christmas become so materialistic?  Does our gift giving reflect God’s gift giving?

Remember the purpose of God’s decision to send His Son to walk this earth with the people.  The purpose was not because his children were being so nice, it was because they were being so naughty.           Repeatedly God had sent them warning after warning that the ancient Jews were ignoring his teachings. He had demonstrated all the different methods he could use—plagues of locust, frogs, parting the Red Sea, and the list could go on and on.  The Old Testament is filled with stories of pestilence, and words of caution from messengers and prophets.  And did the people hear the warnings?  Did all the methods seemingly go unnoticed?

God decided to send Jesus Christ rather than destroy everything on earth.  He showed grace.  He sent Jesus, and Jesus patiently grew into the man who demonstrated grace in concrete ways so we, even today, could transform the world.

Grace, as an entry into a dictionary, begins as a noun, an idea from the Greek language meaning “that which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune.”  [The Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary, p. 366]

God’s gift of His Son was intended to do just that—bring delight, joy, happiness, and good fortune—to all the faithful followers.  God saw that the original intent of providing a Garden of Eden to his children so they could simply live in grace had reached such a chaotic mess he had to do something drastic to get everybody back to that original plan.

God loved us.  He offers us that love freely, without any expectations other than to love one another.  That is grace in action—a verb.  Looking through the entry in the Bible dictionary, the concept of grace is traced from the beginning of the time as recorded in the Old Testament, through the apocrypha, and into the New Testament.  Not once does the basic premise change.

Added to the concept of grace is “divine grace” which is at times is referred to as “divine mercy.”  Divine grace is understood simply as God’s presence in the form of Jesus Christ or in the examples of other faithful leaders “who subsequently grow in grace, speaks gracious words, and like a divine man, passes unharmed through a hostile mob.”  This is how the Bible dictionary has analyzed the verses from Luke (Luke 2:40, 52, 4:22 and 30):

Luke 2:  40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.  . . .  52 Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.

Luke 4:  22 Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?”  . . .  30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.

God’s Christmas gift was delivered through the birth of Jesus Christ.  And that gift took almost 30 years to be opened by the very people who received it.  Have you opened your gift?  Have you received God’s grace?  Have you learned how to use the gift?

Maybe the answers lie in why we celebrate Christmas in such a materialistic manner.  Maybe we feel gift giving, holiday parties, and glorious decorations are ways to share grace with others.  Such traditions do “bring delight, joy, happiness, and/or good fortune.”

But are those gifts bringing God’s grace and peace into the recipients of those gifts?  Are those gifts making a difference in people’s lives, transforming them into Christians who will open up their own gifts to “bring delight, joy, happiness, and/or good fortune” to others, too?

God’s gift giving was intended to transform the world.  The world was in disarray, much like our world today could be described.  Greed continues to be a problem.  Greed comes with dollar signs attached, but it also is demonstrated in power struggles, in territorial disputes, and even in materialistic goods.

And greed is just one form of today’s problems.  There are so many more that can be listed:  racism, abusive relationships and behaviors, all forms of social injustices, no value for human life, addictions, and the list just keeps growing.  Does the 21st century need grace?  Certainly.

The New Testament carefully preserves the history of God’s gift giving, and it demonstrates or outlines all the acts that we are to follow in order to transform the world into one that “brings delight, joy, happiness, and good fortune” to all who follow Jesus.  Has that first Christmas gift worked?

Maybe that is another reason we have Christmas:  to try once more to give gifts that will create grace in the lives of others.  Maybe our Advent season is like the introduction to an operator’s manual.  We need this season to refocus our lives around God.  We need to look at the gifts God has given to us personally and then look at how well we have used them to give grace to others.

The insanity of gift giving today has developed as we wandered away from the very foundation of Christmas.  We are given grace by God each and every day, but are friends, strangers, or ourselves able to give grace to others whether family or not?

This Advent season, stop and review the gifts in your life that bring you delight, joy, happiness and/or good fortune.  The gift of Advent may be the gift of renewal, reaffirmation, or resolve to accept God’s gift of His Son as he tries to transform the world into a grace-filled Garden of Eden.  We, as his followers, are to accept the gift, and then learn how to use it to provide grace and peace to others.  Such gift giving will surely transform the world into one filled with delight, joy, happiness and good fortune.

Why Christmas?  Why not Christmas!  Each year we need to renew the story so we never forget.  Each year we need to open up the gift of God’s grace and figure out how to give the same gift to others.  That is why we have Christmas.

Holy Father, giver of gifts,

Prepare us for Christmas once again.

Guide us in our own gift giving

as we try to follow your example.

Use this Advent season to share the story

of Your greatest gift, Your only Son.

Help us open your gift so others may receive

the grace and peace given to them.

Teach us how to give your gift to others

so they too may be transformed.  –Amen

 

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