Name of Jesus, Year B

Inspired by Philippians 2:5-11

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” Philippians 2:5-6 (NRSV)

Imago Dei. Image of God. According to Genesis, humanity was created in the very image of God, and given dominion over the earth and everything in it. And things went downhill from there.

We tend to lose sight of the fact that we too are creatures, and that, though created in the image of God, we are not actually God, or even gods. We become drunk on our own power, abilities, and talents, and use the things and the people of the earth to benefit ourselves. It was into this world that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was fully human, and therefore, like us, was the image of God. But unlike us, Jesus was also fully divine, and therefore truly was God, equal in every way to the one who created us and gave us what we have. But he did not use that status for his own gain; he did not come to take the world that he’d created and put it back under his own dominion, and then punish those who had abused his creation so grievously. He came to save us, to restore us to the glory he’d wanted for us from the beginning, and to demonstrate for us how we can live human life fully, as human life is intended to be lived, as Jesus lived it.

And the starting point for that is to recognize the limits of our authority, and to reflect the image of God in our lives, without trying to be God ourselves.

Let us pray. Creator God, you created us in your image. Enable us to reflect your glory, that we may be good stewards of the world you have given us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 31, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 148

“Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.” Psalm 148:11-13 (NRSV)

Throughout human history, society has adhered to a hierarchy. The specific details of the hierarchy have differed depending on culture, region, and chronology, but there have always been those at the top, those in the middle, and those at the bottom (not to mention countless levels in between).

The hierarchy of creation is different. God is above all, and everyone else is below. It doesn’t matter if, in our given society, we’re considered at the top, in the middle, or on the bottom; we’re all equally reliant on the grace of God, and we’re all equally beloved by God. Wealth, political influence, and social standing have no advantage when it comes to relationship with the Lord; he alone is Lord, and he alone is deserving of our praise.

Let us pray. Exalted Lord, you have created us as your people, and you are deserving of our praise. Help us to see our fellow creatures as you see us, equally deserving of love, that we may treat each other as sisters and brothers in you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 30, Year B

Inspired by Proverbs 9:1-12

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Proverbs 9:10 (NRSV)

Want to live a good, fulfilling life? Want to know how to prioritize your values and make wise decisions? The self-help section in your local bookstore is full of advice on just how to do that, much of it contradictory.

In this age of relativism, it is difficult to know how best to order our lives. But the wisdom of the bible has stood for ages. Turning to the One who created us, who redeemed us, who sustains us, is a good grounding for everything else in our lives. Will we make mistakes? Certainly. But the Lord our God will forgive us our mistakes, and, if we keep our focus on him and his will, will guide us in the way of truth, love, and peace. What better foundation could we build our lives upon than that?

Let us pray. God of wisdom, you alone know what is right. Turn our hearts and minds towards you, that we may walk in your ways and live faithfully in your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 29, Year B

Inspired by Matthew 12:46-50

“And pointing to his disciples, [Jesus] said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” Matthew 12:49-50 (NRSV)

Many children visualize God as an elderly man with white hair and a long white beard, wearing flowing white robes and sitting on a cloud in heaven, far above the earth. Many of those children grow into adults holding onto that same image, and believe that God and heaven are just so far away from day to day life. They find themselves unable to relate to such a distant God.

But God became flesh and was born a man. Jesus lived on earth, facing many of the struggles that we ourselves continue to face today. Jesus celebrated with friends, wept over lost loved ones, suffered rejection and betrayal, tried to find balance between taking care of others and taking care of himself, and struggled with obeying the harder obligations of following God. In short, Jesus is someone we can relate to. Even though he is fully God, he is also fully human, and is thus the bridge between us and the heavenly Father. While we may struggle to relate to some divine being sitting up on a cloud, that divine being has related to us on our level, in our lives, and has adopted us into his own family.

Let us pray. Father God, you provided us a way to know the unknowable. Help us to obey your will, that we may be heirs with Christ. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

First Sunday after Christmas, Year B

Inspired by Luke 22:22-40

“‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’” Luke 22:31-34 (NRSV)

In our faith lives, we sometimes make bold statements about the depth of our commitment to Christ’s ministry on earth. Yet when it comes time to follow through, we find that we lack the courage to sacrifice all we said we would. The price seems too high, the consequences too severe, and we back away from our commitment, denying Christ just as Peter did.

But just as he knew Peter’s weaknesses, Jesus knows our weaknesses as well. Jesus didn’t condemn Peter for his inevitable denial, but rather assured him of his confidence that Peter would turn back to the way he should go, and instructed him to strengthen his brothers as they struggled under the weight of their own commitments to Christ.

Discipleship is not easy, and you will occasionally fail to do all you’ve committed to do. But you are a disciple of the Lord of mercy and compassion, and his grace allows you to turn back to him, receive his forgiveness, and proclaim the good news of his love.

Let us pray. Lord of mercy and compassion, you accept what we have to offer even though it is far short of what you command. Grant us the humility to recognize our own failures, that we may return to you with confidence in your grace. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 27, Year B

Inspired by 1 John 1:1-9

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9 (NRSV)

We always want to think the best of ourselves. We justify our questionable or even bad behaviors, and we excuse or ignore shortcomings in the name of self-esteem.

When we do that, we’re projecting a false image of who we are to the world, and we often try to believe it ourselves. But it’s a lie, and we cannot maintain it. Eventually we begin to feel like a fraud, and our self-esteem suffers even more.

One of the benefits of salvation is being freed from living a lie. It’s OK to admit to our shortcomings. It’s even OK to call them sins, because we don’t have to be perfect for God to love us; God’s love is capable of forgiving us our sins and putting us in right relationship with him. And being in right relationship with God can bring out the best in us in ways that projecting false images can never even come close to.

Let us pray. Faithful God, you see us as we truly are, and you love us as we truly are. Enable us to recognize and confess our sins, that we may receive your forgiveness. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 26, Year B

Inspired by Jeremiah 26:1-9, 12-15

“The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’” Jeremiah 26:7-8 (NRSV)

God sent Jeremiah with a message for those who worshiped in the house of the Lord. They were, by and large, very comfortable, and they expected their worship experience to make them feel good about themselves and their lives, to affirm them in what they were doing. Jeremiah’s message, however, was that they must repent and turn from their evil ways. Not what they’d wanted to hear, and they reacted badly to it.

I don’t know that many people who worship in the house of the Lord today are really all that different. Many want to go and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” even—and especially—if they’re not really doing anything to warrant such affirmation. But if we’re not willing to honestly deal with the requirements of discipleship, and hear with humility that we’re getting too comfortable in our favored status as ‘saved,’ then we’re not worshiping the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Salvation is not dependent on works, but if our salvation results in no change in our habits, priorities, or lives, then what have we been saved from? Salvation is not ultimately about where we go when we die, but how we’re freed to live here and now. We can live free from bondage to the rat race, of never measuring up to artificial standards of ‘success,’ of never being able to fill the emptiness of our self-serving lives. But in order to do that we must be willing to focus on God first, and prioritize everything else under him and his will. Refusing to hear his will means we’re shutting ourselves away from the salvation he’s so freely offered, and we’re worshiping not God, but our own agendas.

Let us pray. God of salvation, your will for us is benevolent, and your ways are just. Grant us the humility to recognize that while we are saved by your grace, we are yet sinners in need of your guidance, that we may turn away from our own agendas and towards your love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Day, Year B

Inspired by Titus 3:4-7

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:4-5 (NRSV)

The way Christmas is celebrated in much of the United States today has little to do with the religious holiday that celebrates the birth of Christ our Savior. Santa Claus has supplanted Jesus Christ as the primary figure, consumption and consumerism stand in for celebration, and even the name ‘Christmas’ is losing out to the more politically correct ‘Holidays.’

There is one way, however, that even the most secular, consumerist version of the ‘Holidays’ conveys an important point about the Christian Christmas celebration: the reckless generosity of flagrant gift-giving. The gift of his Son was God’s generosity and mercy run amok; sinful humanity had done nothing to deserve a gift of such value. But God gave us his Son out of the abundance of his love and grace—and that love and grace is still in abundance today.

While secular holiday gift-giving often feeds feelings of greed, entitlement, and false pride, it’s still a way in which even those things that seem to work against Christianity can reveal a truth about the real meaning of Christmas. Whatever the motivations, even the secular ‘Holidays’ can remind us that Christmas is the result of God’s reckless generosity and flagrant gift of his Son.

Let us pray. Merciful God, you sent us your Son not because we deserved such a gift, but because we needed it. On this day of celebration, let each wrapped present remind us of your abundant generosity, that we may use our gifts in the world to meet the needs of others. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Eve, Year B

Inspired by Luke 2:1-14

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’” Luke 2:8-11 (NRSV)

I think most of us would react like the shepherds when they saw the angel of the Lord. Even those of us solid in our faith, if we were actually faced with an angel of the Lord shining with the Lord’s glory, we’d be terrified.

It probably stems from a deeply hidden feeling of inadequacy or guilt. All of us can point to ways in which we’re not quite loving enough, not quite giving enough, not quite Christian enough, and we’re afraid that, in the end, God’s judgment is to be feared.

But we’d receive the same message from God that the shepherds did: Do not be afraid—I am bringing you good news of great joy. God knows us to our very core, and God loves us to our very core. Of course we’re not loving enough or giving enough to earn God’s favor; that’s why he sent his Son, the Messiah, the Lord, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves—achieve our salvation. God’s breaking into the world is not an event to cause terror, but one to inspire celebration and rejoicing.

Let us pray. Saving God, you saw our sorry state, and sent your Son to redeem us. Enable us to rejoice at your mercy, that we may celebrate your love rather than fear your wrath. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 23, Year B

Inspired by Zephaniah 3:14-20

“I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.” Zephaniah 3:19 (NRSV)

We live in a success-oriented culture. Our worth is judged by our productivity and measurable signs of accomplishment such as wealth and popularity. Even though most of us acknowledge that we are not perfect, we put an extraordinary amount of effort into portraying a picture of perfection to those around us.

And many of us refrain from really entering into a relationship with God because we’re afraid that he’ll see right through us, he’ll know we’re nowhere near perfect enough to be acceptable to him, and he’ll reject us.

But God doesn’t require us to be perfect as a starting point for relationship; through a relationship with God we are brought closer to perfection. The very parameters for measuring perfection are changed to include those things that cause us shame now; God seeks out the lame and the outcast for relationship, and the shame that people feel for their shortcomings is transformed into praise and renown.

A society which can never achieve perfection on its own pretends to be perfect and harshly judges and ostracizes anyone deemed to be less than perfect. The One who truly is perfect accepts our imperfections as part of us and loves us completely. Why not let the transforming love of God determine your worth, rather than the jealous imaginings of imperfect creatures?

Let us pray. God of perfection, you alone are able to judge our worth. Free us from unreasonable human expectations and values, that we may trust in you and be transformed by your loving acceptance. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.