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.

December 22, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 96

“For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” Psalm 96:4-6 (NRSV)

There is so much vying for our attention. We have relationships with families and friends. We need to make a living to provide for ourselves and our loved ones. Then there’s the never-ending bombardment of social media and entertainment. Some of these things are very important. All of them have a place in our lives. And all of them try to claim the position of utmost importance. Any or all of them can become an idol.

Is there a good book or movie that would temporarily distract you from your daily stress? Then enjoy it! But don’t allow pursuit of those temporary enjoyments to distract you from the life God has blessed you with. Do you use social media to keep up with old friends or distant family? What a wonderful use of that tool! Don’t become absorbed with how many friends or followers you have, or cease to live your life because you’re too busy reporting it. Are you working to earn a living? Great way to provide for yourself while making profitable use of your gifts! Don’t allow your profession to determine your identity, or your paycheck to determine your value. Are you raising children or nurturing your spouse and close friends? What a blessing you are to them and they to you! Don’t lose yourself in the needs and wants of others at the expense of your own well-being, or base your own worth on the happiness of others.

All the good things we have in our lives are blessings from God, yet we must beware of worshiping the blessings instead of worshiping the one who blessed us. There is only one God, and he is to be praised for all that we have, and he is to be revered above all those good things which he has seen fit to give us.

Let us pray. Lord of all, marvelous are your works. Keep us focused on your majesty and grace, that we may appreciate the blessings you’ve given us as gifts from you rather than idols to be worshiped. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Second Sunday of Christmas, Year A

Inspired by John 1:(1-9) 10-18

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  John 1:14 (NRSV)

We believe in the Triune God, and refer to the three persons of the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We understand Jesus to be the second person of the Trinity, the Word made flesh, and we refer to him as the Son of God.  While this language is true and appropriate, we sometimes get so focused on the distinctions between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we lose sight of the fact that God is One.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  When the Word became flesh and lived among us, it was not the Father sending his Son to do the dirty work of living, suffering, and dying as a human being.  When the Word became flesh God himself became flesh, and God himself experienced mortal life, suffering, and death.  And God himself defeated death and gave us new life.

We use Trinitarian language to help us understand the depths of God’s love and the breadth of his activity.  But while the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons, they are still one God, the One God, who creates, redeems, and sustains us.  It is God who was pleased to join us in our humanity, and it is God who is pleased to share his eternity.

Let us pray.  Triune God, your fullness exceeds the limits of our language and imaginations.  Help us to accept your grace and truth even without fully comprehending your being, that our salvation may be shaped by your greatness rather than our limits.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

January 4, Year A

Inspired by Psalm 72

“May all the kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.  For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.  He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.  From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.”  Psalm 72:11-14 (NRSV)

What are the characteristics of a leader governing according to God’s own heart?  What would such a leader’s priorities be?

Some claim that a godly leader would enforce biblical codes of morality on his citizenry, and attempt to impose ancient societal norms on a modern population.  Those who obeyed God’s law (as interpreted by such a leader) would be prosperous and powerful, while those who didn’t would be harshly punished as both an enemy of the state and as an enemy of God.

But when the biblical witness refers to a leader who governs according to God’s own heart, morality codes and societal norms are rarely mentioned.  Instead, such a leader is described as being compassionate and merciful towards the most vulnerable.  He values the lives of the poor and needy just as much as he values the lives of the rich and powerful.  He abhors violence and oppression, and works to eliminate both from his realm.  Governing according to such principles should be cause for all the leaders of the world to recognize his greatness and work to carry out his mandate.

In this fallen and sinful world, a leader who governs according to such principles is often called weak, and is accused of rewarding self-defeating behavior.  But the definitions of the world do not define God, and God’s will shall not be co-opted by the desires of the powerful.  God delivers the needy when they call, and God is the helper of the poor.  God has pity on the weak and the needy, and their lives are precious to him.  God works against oppression and violence, and God calls all who claim to follow him to do the same.

Let us pray.  Compassionate God, you have mercy and compassion on those whom the world despises.  Help us to recognize the inherent value you have given to all your people, that we may be inspired to practice your compassion and mercy.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

January 3, Year A

Inspired by Genesis 28:10-22

“And the Lord stood beside [Jacob] and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring…Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’”  Genesis 28:13, 15 (NRSV)

Generally speaking, we lack patience.  We want what we want when we want it, and we get frustrated when things don’t happen according to our own timetables.  We’re on this earth for a limited period of time, and we have difficulty acknowledging how our lives are continuing a narrative that began long before us, and how we are shaping the environment for those who come after us.

But God transcends time.  God made promises to Abraham that were not completely fulfilled during Abraham’s lifetime.  God promised to make him a great nation, but though Abraham lived in the land God had promised, he and his small family did so as resident aliens.  Years later God renewed those promises to Abraham’s grandson, but Jacob would not live to see those promises fulfilled, either.  It would be several hundred years before Abraham’s descendants would become a great nation, and it would be over a thousand years before all the families of the earth could begin to be blessed through Abraham.  Even today that promise is still being fulfilled, and has not yet been brought to completion.

Just because it’s not happening according to out timetable doesn’t mean that God has forgotten his promises.  His presence with us does not end when our earthly life is over.  God is eternal, his promises are eternal, his faithfulness is eternal, and his love is eternal.

Let us pray.  Eternal Lord, your vision is far greater than we can comprehend.  Grant us patience, that we may trust in your faithfulness even when we can’t see your activity.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

January 2, Year A

Inspired by Genesis 12:1-7

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”  Genesis 12:1-3 (NRSV)

Many of us want fame and fortune, and while much of Christian discipleship and religious practice in general focuses on eschewing these things, fame and fortune were what God promised to Abram (later called Abraham).  In ancient times wealth was measured by land.  A large family was a sign of power and influence.  When God called Abraham to follow him, these were the things he promised him.

But God did not promise Abraham fame and fortune simply for Abraham’s own personal benefit.  God wanted to bless Abraham so he would be a blessing to others.  God would entrust fame and fortune to Abraham so Abraham would be the means through which God would bless all the families of the earth.

Many of us have been blessed with some measure of wealth and influence.  How are you using the blessings God has given you?  Don’t keep them only for your own benefit; use what God has given you to be a blessing for others, and participate in God’s gracious work in the world.

Let us pray.  God of abundance, you have blessed us with many things.  Help us to be a blessing to others, that all the world may know your love and grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.