Light of the World [Christmas Eve 2018]

At our Christmas Eve services at Eastbrook Church, we focused on Jesus as the light of the world. You can watch my message from the Christmas Eve service here. This begins a new series, “The Name Above All Names,” for us at Eastbrook on the titles of Jesus. I’m also including the text of that message below the video.

Christmas Eve 2018 – “Light of the World”

As we grow up, most of us learn the basics of life. One of those basics is that we have five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

While there are other things we sense – pain, temperature, hunger – most of those are related to the classic five senses that we usually learn.

But there is a unique effect that sometimes occurs where the triggering of one sense leads to the involuntary triggering of another sense. One of the most well-known incidents of this was recorded in 1690 by the English philosopher John Locke who made a report about a blind man who said he experienced the color scarlet when he heard the sound of a trumpet.

That effect in which stimulation of one sense leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sense is called synesthesia.

The story of Jesus’ birth is an experience of multi-sensory stimulation causing an experience like synesthesia. As the story goes, Mary and Joseph both have angelic appearances, during a vision at daytime for Mary and during a dream at night for Joseph.

Those angelic appearances overwhelm them and are enough to help them believe that God is doing something new: God is rescuing the world from the powers of evil and sin by coming in the midst of ordinary people like them in the flesh. And all through those angelic appearances burst sights, sounds, and feelings that overload the senses with God’s purposes:Read More »

Finding God: Jesus

Jesus-Christmas[This is the final devotional I wrote for Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Find the daily journey through Advent here.]

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:6-7)

The distance between expectations and reality is often one of the greatest strains on us as people. When our expected hopes never arrive we can easily descend into frustration or disillusionment. “What happens to a dream deferred?”, Langston Hughes asks in his famous poem, “Harlem,” about unrealized equality. The final lines summarize one aspect of that angst-filled reality: “Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load. / Or does it explode?” Endless anticipation that is never realized tumbles from the high peaks of hope into the chasms of hopelessness.

Yet when our anticipated hopes do arrive it is like the flash of glorious sunlight across the mountain peaks. It is like drinking a glass of clear, cool water on a hot, humid day. In the depths of our being we rise up into that realized hope and say: “Yes! Finally! This is what I have been waiting for!”

The birth of Jesus is not only the culmination of our Advent journey, but also the realization of all our greatest longings as human beings. In the words of the old hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Jesus arrives, bringing the peace of God Isaiah prophesied, the hope of God that Elizabeth tasted, the joy of God John the Baptist preached about, and the love of God that Mary felt deep within her.

Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “who was with God in the beginning” (John 1:2), is now nestled in the warm flesh and solid bone of humanity at His birth in Bethlehem. God has done it! Our dreams are no longer deferred but met in Him here and now. God has drawn near and the wonder of this moment invites us into awe-filled wonder and worship again. So, let us do that today. Let us join our voices with the women and men of God throughout all the ages to speak praise from the depths of our soul to Jesus, our infant king:

O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him!
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!

Reflect:

  • How has your life with God been different from what you thought it to be?
  • What has been the greatest part of knowing you are loved by God, loved by Him so much that He sent His very own son to die in your place?

A Prayer for Christmas Day (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

God of glory,
your splendor shines from a manger in Bethlehem,
where the Light of the world is humbly born
into the darkness of human night.
Open our eyes to Christ’s presence in the shadows of our world,
so that we, like him, may become beacons of your justice,
and defenders of all for whom there is no room. Amen.

Apocalyptic Christ: a poem

visions of horror shudder
the human heart
heaving oceans and lurching beasts
clamor over creation
raging conquerors crush and kill
life scurrying under the sun
and history’s wheels roll over
all vulnerable souls

then lightning flashes the skies
and tear-filled eyes see
heaven’s in-breaking rule snaps in
like a curtain torn in two
all the boiling cauldron of earth
stops short in hearing a baby’s cry
and all human hearts find unshakable rest
in vulnerable visions of glory

Christmas Eve 2018 Eastbrook

The prophet Isaiah foretold about Jesus, the light of the world. In Isaiah 9:2 he writes, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Hundreds of years later, Jesus was born and proclaimed: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Join us for worship services on Christmas Eve at Eastbrook Church for a celebration of Jesus, the Light of the world! We have three identical services at 2:30, 4:00, and 5:30 PM.

Find directions to Eastbrook here.

Finding Love: Mary

advent-mary.jpg[This is the devotional I wrote for the fourth week of Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Join in with the daily journey through Advent here.]

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48)

“Love is blind.” At least, that is how the saying goes. The phrase means that when love is in play, a person is prone to overlook, or just plain fail to see, the problems within the person being loved. There is some truth to that, but the kind of love we all deeply desire is a love that truthfully sees everything about us and still loves us. Love that is blind – that turns away from reality – is false love, while love that sees – that leans into reality – is real love.

John 3:16 is such a well-known Scripture passage because it describes God’s love as real love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). In the midst of a world stuck in the cycle of death, Jesus the Son of God comes to bring liberating life. Even as the world could potentially be condemned because of evil and injustice, God takes a different route by sending Jesus to save the world. Jesus Himself echoes this later when He says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We see in Jesus the Messiah that God’s love is an eyes-open love, leaning into the reality of our world and our lives. Jesus shows us just how far God will go to hold us in His loving embrace.

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing God’s plan to bring the Messiah to birth through her, Mary was astounded. Her question, “How will this be?”, was both a question about the manner of the Messianic birth since she was a virgin and simultaneously a question about the possibility that something like this could occur in human history. When Gabriel emphasized God’s decisive plan to intervene through Jesus as Messiah, such knowledge eventually leads Mary to erupt with praise: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation” (Luke 1:46-47, 50).

That little word ‘mercy’ is an echo of the Hebrew word hesed, which refers to God’s uniquely steady and faithful love. Mary grasps, and shares with us today, that God sees what is really there in the world and still chooses to love humanity from generation to generation throughout the earth. Mary becomes a picture not only of humble obedience to God’s call, but also boisterous praise of God’s love. As we draw close to Christmas Day, let us join Mary’s wondrous call to praise our God whose love is not blind, but rather eyes-open about us and our world. Let us draw near with anticipation to experience once again   the tenderly tenacious love of God found in Jesus the Messiah.

Reflect:

  • What difference does it make to you that God loves you—no matter what, just as you are?
  • Who in your life needs to hear that God loves them…absolutely and completely? How and when will you tell them?

A Prayer for the fourth Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

O God of Elizabeth and Mary,
you visited your servants with news of the world’s redemption
in the coming of the Savior.
Make our hearts leap with joy,
and fill our mouths with songs of praise,
that we may announce glad tidings of peace,
and welcome the Christ in our midst. Amen.

Join in with the daily Advent devotional here.