Friday, December 31, 2010

The Sixth Day of Christmas

Halfway through Christmas, our reading is Matthew 2:6

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel'"


(For the whole passage, go here Matthew 2:1-12)


This is a direct quote from the prophet Micah, whose book was written some 700 years before Christ was born. It is very specific about where the Messiah is to be born.

Why did God pick Bethlehem?


We can't read His mind or His motives of course, but a few theories exist.


God's love for David may play a part. What better place than the city of this man after God's own heart to have his promised descendant born?


Also, Bethlehem was a small humble place. It gives us a picture that Christ is for all, not just the rich and powerful.


Bethlehem means "house of bread". One reason Christ came is to give us -- to be for us-- the living bread.


At any rate, Jesus birth in Bethlehem fulfilled prophecy.


Have a great New Year's Eve and

Merry Christmas!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Fifth Day of Christmas

So today our family is reading Matthew 2:5, in which the Chief Priests and teachers of the law begin to answer Herod's question about where the Messiah was to be born.


“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:"

(To see the hole passage, look at Matthew 2:1-12 )


The religious leaders knew the answer. It seems they knew right where to look for it. Micah. Of course, they would have had the incredible privilege of studying the scriptures for several hours every day. So they knew this stuff backwards and forwards.

Their answer was Bethlehem which, of course, was where Jesus had already been born.


Did the Chief Priests and teachers of the law know why Herod really wanted this information? Were his motives clear to them? Or did they just figure that he wanted to give a straight answer to the Wise Men from the East? Perhaps they were generally suspicious of Herod but figured that no harm could come from such a simple bit of information. Another thing we really can't know.


At any rate, they did give a reply. More of what they had to say tomorrow, when we read the next verse.


Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fourth Day of Christmas

For the fourth day of Christmas we read Matthew 2:4

When he {Herod} had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

So Herod didn't know that Bethlehem was to be the birth place of the Messiah. But he did know, or at least suspect, that the King that the Wise Men were seeking was the Messiah. The one promised by God. He may have been reciting prayers that the Messiah would come three times a day. Jews of that time did, and Herod may have held to the forms of Judaism.

So he assembled the Cheif Priests and teachers of the law for information. Did they have real respect for his office? Did they go to him under compulsion? We don't know. We have no idea what these men thought of Herod or the Romans who set him over them. All we know is that they obeyed his summons -- willingly or not.

And we know that Herod did not know the answer himself. In depth scripture study was not his thing. But he was no dummy either. He knew where to find answers.

There is not much meat in today's verse, really. But I believe that every word of scripture is there for a reason and worth meditating on.

Anyway,

Merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Third Day of Christmas

Today’s reading is Matthew 2:3 (which comes after the Magi arrive in Jerusalem and ask where the new king of the Jews is):

"When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him."

( To read the complete passage look here Matthew 2:1-12)

King Herod. He considered himself the King of the Jews. He was half-Jewish and his father had curried favor with the occupying Romans by doing favors for a powerful official. He was therefore appointed to the throne of Israel and ruled as a puppet king. He was known for his harsh and tyrannical ways.

It is easy to see why Herod was troubled by news of a new king, even one still in his cradle. He would have known that the rightful king should be a descendant of David. Herod would also have known that a Messiah was prophesied to come. It is likely that Herod was aware of the common opinion that the Messiah would be a political and military leader who would overthrow Rome. Herod would have a lot to lose if that turned out to be true.


But why were the people of Jerusalem worried as well? Would not news of the Messiah’s coming been a reason for celebration? Wouldn’t the idea of Rome and the tyrannical Herod being overthrown give rise to hope and even joyful anticipation?


Perhaps, they were afraid that Herod would become more hard-fisted and dangerous because of the news. Maybe they just didn’t understand and were confused. Or it could be that they didn’t understand who this new king would be and were afraid that he would be worse than Herod. “Better the devil you know,” as the saying goes. Ultimately this is one of those things that we just don’t know. But it is more central to the story than it appears at first blush. How they received the Christ – or didn’t – affected the course of history. Think about it.

What is your reaction to the idea that the King is coming?



Merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Second Day of Christmas

The reading for the second day of Christmas -- at our house-- is Matthew 2:2 (the Wise Men are speaking.)

"and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'" Matthew 2:2

(To see the whole passage go to: Matthew 2:1-12)


The star -- what was it? There were, apparently, a couple of conjuctions of planets about two years apart around the time of Christ's birth. Many believe this is the explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. Maybe It's certainly perfectly likely. It's also entirely possible that it was a miraculous star divinely placed just to announce Christ's birth. It doesn't matter which, really. What does matter is what the Wise Men understood from it:

A king had been born to the Jews.
They knew him to be no ordinary king, too. They went to Jerusalem. They certainly wouldn't have traveled such a long distance to see a new-born foreign king from a small country, unless they believed that in some way he would impact their own lives or influence the course of history.

The Wise Men, who knew the stars, got the message. Here was a baby to be worshipped. They must have understood he was a divine baby. Did they know he was the One true God? We can't know that.

But we know that He was. So now it is our turn to worship him. God bless you as you do.

Merry Christmas!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The First Day of Christmas

In our family, part of our celebration of the twelve days of Christmas is to read aand discuss a verse from the story of the Wise Men in Matthew each day from December 26 until Epiphany on January 6. Twelve days, twelve verses. It works. I thought I'd share that tradition here.

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem

(To see the whole passage go to: Matthew 2:1-12


The first thing that strikes me about this verse is that it talks about after the birth. We tend to prepare for a long time and then celebrate for a day. But most births are celebrated after they occur. The medeival church considered Christmas so important that they celebrated for twelve days after the Feast Day. These feasts could get excessive, to be sure, and eventually were banned by religious leaders. But maybe, the Church back then was on the right track...


Another thing I notice is that this verse is one of those which establishes Jesus birth firmly in history. We are told the exact town in which he was born, and narrow the time down to one Hebrew King's reign. This just doesn't happen in myths. I mean what story tells us precisely when Athena sprang from Zeus' head?

This verse also makes me wonder about the Wise Men. Who they were is hard to determine. Various translations call them Magi, Wise Men, Kings or astrologers. That they came from the East is definite, but precisely how far they traveled or what country they came from is not mentioned in the passage. Scholars think that they were most likely from Persia. Ancient Persian scholars contributed significantly to the bodies of knowledge in the fields of mathematics and astonomy. They also followed a form of astrology based in the Zend-Avesta the text which Zoroastrians hold sacred. They would have been diligently watching the sky for both scientific and religious reasons.

It's worth noting, too, that we aren't told how many there are or how they traveled. Also, they went to Jerusalem, the seat of government and religion in Isreal, not to Bethlehem. So they had some information about the birth, but not all.


Whoever they were, these wise men let us know one thing: Jesus birth was for more than just the Jews. God came to earth for everyone. He makes that known right from the start.

Small verse, seemingly simple. But it tells us a lot, for all that.


Merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What I'm Reading

Every once in a while I get asked what I am reading. Here's my current list. Well, the fiction portion anyway.

Descent into Hell by Charles Williams

I have actually finished this one. Charles Williams was one of the Inklings, a friend of J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis. While this novel is set in a real time and place, it is quite strange, exploring spiritual realms. It reawakened me to the ongoing spiritual battle around us. Some passages I find incomprehensible. I am not alone in this, Tolkein said the same thing about much of William's work. Also, William's belief in purgatory, which I don't share, plays strongly in the plot. But the novel affirms God's strength and grace. It was the "Doctrine of Substituted Love" around which the plot centers that really caught me. I'll be reading more of William's work -- War in Heaven next, I think.

Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

I am actually re-reading this series, which was recommended by several friends. I am enjoying it, although it drew me in more the first time around. I am back up to book eight and the plot has gotten crazy. I am looking forward to the new books, twelve and thirteen, which I am told wrap things up and draw the ends together. When I finish Wbeel of Time, I am going to try the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson which is recommended by the same group of friends. We also read Stephen King's Dark Tower Series. We're kinda into fantasy stuff. We love the Lord of the Rings, too. Books and movies. We've spent entire weekends rewatching those movies together. In fact, I'd like to do that again.

Mongoliad

This is an internet novel that was written by a team of writers which happens to include a friend of mine. It's put out by the Subutai Corporation. The story has captured my imagination and I like the plot, the characters, the setting. I do struggle with the ...format? media?....I don't know what word works here. What I mean is that I like to curl up in my bed with my stories and reading it on my laptop doesn't allow for that. Still, I'll keep going. I want to know what happens next.


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This is a historical novel about black maids and the families they worked for, set in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It's really well done and a bit different from my usual fare. I am enjoying it and it was recommended by my Mom and sister. It's an exciting plot, with twists and unexpected turns. Some events were certainly added for dramatic purposes but most of it has the flavor of realism. It's gritty in many ways. There are realistic, graphic descriptions of a late term miscarriage, domestic violence and a stymied sexual assault that might give some readers pause.


Anyway, there is the answer for any of you who might be wondering. Or if you just want a book recommendation.

Hope you're reading good stuff too. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Worshipping "alone"

My son went to a different church this morning, with his Dad. I attended our home church.


Everybody...and I mean everybody...asked where he was. It's amazing how a child is so noticeable when there are few children around.

I had more opportunities to chat with people today, to catch up on people who are ill or traveling and to give information on my mother. I had more time to pay attention to the needs of the elderly around me -- to carry things, to help someone find their copy of a hymn.

While I would rather worship with my son most of the time, I am glad I had this chance on "home territory" to look about me. Now that I have seen more ways where I can be helpful to my fellow worshippers I can direct myself and Jordan to attend to these things. And we can be more a part of the life of the church family.

Not that we aren't active -- we are. But this will allow us a little more of give and take in the service. And that is blessing.

Merry Chrismas!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How much playing is too much?

"Most middle class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play and to play at their worship." ~Gordon Dahl


The pastor mentioned this quote in his sermon on Sunday, but long before that I had begun musing on how much recreation and self-entertainment is too much.

How often does play interfere with my goals in other areas? Sometimes I find myself procratinating on important things-- and playing instead. Or I will be distracted by a game and end up having to stay up late to get work done.


I see games as a part of the sabbath portion of life. They allow us to relax and connect with others. In a time and place in which most of us work at sedentary jobs, play can provide the physical activity needed for good health. This recreation should be part of the rythym of our lives.

But what happens when it takes over? When it becomes our reason for being? Or all that we look forward to? Then, I think, it is out of balance. I feel like play should not be a priority, that it should take a smaller chunk of my time and energy than my worship, my relationships, my work. Well, most of the time. An occasional weekend or week given over to primarily play can make a great vacation. "Everything in moderation, including moderation." And of course there is overlap. When a Mom agrees to play a board game with her child, is she working or playing? Both, maybe. When my son gets involved in a physical game is it education or recreation? Again, it could be both.

It's mostly a matter of keeping things in their ightful place. I do strive to keep in mind that I am here to glorify God , not to entertain myself.

Anyway, just my thoughts. Have a great day.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Broken World....Seeking Peace

My very first post on this blog was about Jordan's strange creche. The one with Mary sunbathing on the roof, animals upside down, a horse climbing the stairs and utter chaos reigning. He had set out to make the strangest scene possible. We were laughing that week.


I have noticed that this scene does not inspire devotion at first glance. What I have tried to do is let it represent the fact that Jesus was born into a broken, chaotic world. Occupied, overcrowded Bethlehem was not a calm and lovely place.

While Jordan's version is too bizarre, typical renditions are too idealistic. What was the stable that Jesus was born into like? We can't know, of course. It may have been well kept, clean, warm and quiet. Or it may have been filthy, drafty and noisy. Perhaps it hadn't been mucked out because the owner was busy with the census...or because he was jsut plain lazy. There may have been broken yokes and trash around. There may have been dozens of animals crowded in, bleating and braying.

Was the manger ready for baby Jesus? Or did Joseph have to use his carpentry skills to fix a broken one found abandoned in the corner? Jordan's scene makes me wonder.

Another thing is that the creche in our house this year is not offer a sense of peace. I struggle with this in a season when I need peace. I want to reorder everything and have a peaceful place wher I can rest my eyes. But this isn't about me. So, as family tradition dictates, I let the manger stand.

Right now I am at a friends' house. I am glad to see a traditional manger scene. In addition to it's central meaning it is symbolic of the fact that this home is a place where I can rest and de-stress. It is something to be grateful for that I can relax here for a few days.


I contemplate this as my mother struggles with cancer, a college acquaintance seeks to bring her daughter home from Siberia, a friend heals from a broken relationship. We live in a broken world....and that is why Christ came.

May He speak peace in all our hearts.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Refugees

Jesus was a refugee.


The pastor said this in the benediction today and it struck me.

It was at a program put on by Burmese refugees at a Baptist church in Lowell. She reminded all of us that Jesus had flown from an oppressive regime, something very pertinent to most of the congregation, although not our family. Well, not in the same way. Perhaps, for us, the fact that Jesus was once a refugee will act as a catalyst to get us to help the refugees near us more.

Jesus had to fly from Israel because of a part of the Christmas story that often gets left out. You certainly do not see it in manger scenes and living nativities. The murder of the babies in Bethlehem. A horrible tragedy perpetrated by Herod because he was afraid this new king would be stronger. Boy, was he right! And he didn't succeed. But I do feel for the mothers of all those boys under two.

The pastor also spoke of God making a great nation out of those who had once been refugees in Egypt. "Coincidentally", Jordan asked tonight that we watch The Prince of Egypt. The Pharoah ended up being afraid that the nation of Isreal would be too strong for him to. They were saved from oppression -- and Pharoah, like Herod was both right and defeated. There are so many echoes!!

It seems that connections are being drawn. I wonder what God has in mind as he brings this topic repeatedly before my mind. It may be exciting to find out.

Have a great day!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cleaning

My living room looks good (if I do say so myself).

Well, it isn't decorated for Christmas yet. We'll be putting up the tree tonight. But today we got ready for the tree and, for once, the living room looks neat. This is a rare occurence these days.

I made some progress with other rooms, too. Jordan's room is still ahead. That's in BAD shape just now. It's too full and nothing is in it's place. Yikes!!

I have to keep reminding myself, as I think about tackling this job, that it is not impossible. Far from it actually. It's really not even hard. It's one of those things that has to be taken one step at a time and big progress has to be seen in little improvements, but it can be done. And it will be. Starting in a few minutes.

So what do you have to get working on? It always feels better to know someone else is working "nearby"....

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Business

Jordan has started up a business.

He took greeting cards with his photos on and some perler bead ornaments to a homeschool craft fair and sold them. (Well, sometimes, I sold them while he played. I get to be an unpaid employee. That's what Mom's are for.)

People bought his cards. Mostly adults, all of whom had encouraging things to say about his photography. Jordan was very happy, though he's still far in the red and we will need to look for new places for him to sell his stuff.

It's been a great learning experience for him so far. Especially choosing the photos and seeing who bought what. He included a picture of the Temple in Ocean Park. It's a good picture, but I didn't think it would sell since the customers wouldn't have a connection to the place. It was the first one bought. Hmmm.

A boy bought a picture of a cannon. A rocky waterscape was a favorite. Overall, he made good choices.

It will be interesting to watch how this unfolds and where it takes him. I am glad to share his journey.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas

I am about to say something that some people will consider almost heretical.

I think Christmas is about receiving.

That's right, not giving, receiving.


Oh, not the gift giving part. Surely in that department is more blessed to give than to receive, though I like getting presents as much as anybody else. And, even my 11 year old looks at me askance, but I still believe in Santa. Choosing just the right present and seeing someone enjoy opening it beats getting a gift any time, though.

Back to what I started with... smack in the middle of my favorite Christmas carol (O Little Town of Bethlehem) are the lines

No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin
where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in

If we don't receive him, make a place for him in our lives, all the rest becomes social rituals. Nice in the themselves and great ways to show others we care, sure. But with their purpose gutted.


So, I think Christmas, ultimately, is about receiving. Are you ready to receive Christ in your heart and home?

Have a good night!