Thursday, December 25, 2008

Advent Devotional for Christmas Day

Thursday, December 25 Luke 2:22-32
Jesus grants us healing both here and beyond.
Simeon served in the Temple and we read that he looked forward with steadfast heart to “the consolation of Israel.” He looked forward to the day when God would decisively break into the world on behalf of his people, and reconcile all people to Himself. When he saw Jesus, in the Spirit he knew that he was seeing the Messiah, the One he had waited to see all his life.
And he embraces this baby, this baby who has been the purpose of his whole life, and he essentially cries out to God, “I can now die happy. Because, God, I have seen your salvation; I have embraced and held him for myself, and I now know the consolation of your people both here and around the world has begun.”
Simeon had embraced God’s healing for himself and so he could face death happily, knowing that the very purpose of his life had been fulfilled, and that every dream he had had for his time on earth had come true. He had seen this baby, and it was enough; he had held this baby, and his soul was now at rest and ready for whatever comes next.
As for us, we have no idea what comes next. God has granted me thirty-one Christmases thus far, and I have no reason to doubt that I will live to see thirty-two. But who knows? Who knows where we will be next Christmas, and what the state of our body and lives will be? Who knows what will happen in the next year in America, in the world, in our families, lives and homes? We simply don’t know.
And so, before this Christmas passes you by, embrace the Baby. Take him into your arms; gaze into the eyes of salvation; remember that these baby hands were formed for your healing, worked for your healing, healed for your healing, bled for your healing, were pierced for your healing. Remember that embracing this Baby—for all that means—is the purpose of your life, the very reason you were put here. Remember that in a sense, his hands are now your hands, and that you are a healer as certainly as he was.
And once you have embraced him, enjoy the sweet communion with him that Simeon enjoyed, both as he held him on this side of the River Jordan, and as he knelt at his feet and worshiped him on the other side of that great river. May God grant you a sweet 2009 of communion with the Baby of Bethlehem.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Advent Devotional for Christmas Eve

Wednesday, December 24 Luke 2:1-20
Jesus is healing.
We read these verses every year. Maybe we read them at the Christmas Eve service, or hear the pastor read them on the Sunday before or after Christmas. Maybe we read them when we are together as a family Christmas Eve night. Maybe we hear Linus read them in A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the lights dimmed, holding only his blanket and speaking with childlike innocent clarity.
The first seven verses are a remarkable retelling of the events, if only because it reminds us on one hand how ordinary Jesus’ birth was. An ordinary man, an ordinary woman, on ordinary business, give birth in an ordinary way. In fact, if there was anything exceptional about the birth itself, it had more to do with how humble the circumstances were; there was not even a room in a home or an inn for the baby to be born, so he was laid in a feeding trough.
Of course, the next few verses reveal that this is no ordinary baby boy. An angel appears and tells shepherds of his birth, that this one is a Savior, a Messiah, the Lord himself. Suddenly the angel is surrounded with an army of other angels, all rejoicing in the accomplishment of God in being Incarnate in human form. This is most unusual; not for every baby does the veil between heaven and earth tear so that mortals can see the rejoicing of angels.
The angels’ message, of course, is that Jesus is the long-awaited One, the Reconciler, the one who will save us from our sin and from ourselves, and the one who will offer us right relationship with God. It is, in short, a message about healing; it reveals that the brokenness that has permeated the world since Adam and Eve is on borrowed time; it reveals that the darkness that covers the earth is being pierced by one great light, and that Light is currently laying in a manger and longing for human touch.
Never forget this, not now, not ever. Never settle for the insipid brew that passes for Christmas in America, this idea that Christmas is about the innocence of childhood, or the joy that naturally occurs in our hearts, or the quiet comfort of family and friends. Christmas is this: our healing has come to us in a way we can see and touch and understand, in the baby Jesus. Our healing lays now in a manger, close to us, within our grasp, and cries out to be held and touched and embraced and owned. The question which confronts us always, but especially at Christmas, is whether we will in fact embrace this Baby who cries out for our arms.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 23

Tuesday, December 23 John 11
Jesus brings healing even where it seems impossible.
The story of Lazarus is justly one of the most famous in Scripture. Jesus has just left Judea where people had been trying to arrest him, but now he wants to go back to visit his friend Lazarus, who is gravely ill. The disciples protest but Jesus insists, prompting a resigned Thomas to shrug, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” They do not arrive until Lazarus has been dead for three days. Jesus, though, tells Lazarus’s sister Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” She says, “I know, I know that there will be a day when the dead will be raised.” Jesus says, “No, I mean now…I am the resurrection.” He has them pull the stone away, despite the stench of death that should be present after three days of decomposition. He calls, “Lazarus, come forth!” and Lazarus does, alive again. He is embraced by his family and welcomed back.
There are times in our lives when our prospects for recovery seem, well, dead. We look at our situation in life and do not see any hope of recovery. Family relationships seem broken beyond repair. Addictions are too powerful, too strong to break. Marriages are too broken, suffering from years of neglect or misbehavior. The economic situation has simply laid us too low to ever be hopeful again.
Remember, in the midst of all this, that the One we worship is the One who raised Lazarus. He is the One who looked at a three-day-old corpse and saw not horrific stench but unrealized potential. He is the One who told his disciples and friends and anyone else who would listen that he has this power and is willing to use it on behalf of his followers. And he is the One who calls his followers to go to uncomfortable places (like Judea) and do uncomfortable things (like roll stones away) so that they can know his healing, and (amazing thought!) become healers themselves. Before you declare any situation in your life beyond redemption, remember that this is the God you worship.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 22

Monday, December 22 Malachi 4:2
Jesus is the Sun of Righteousness, who brings healing.
“The sun of righteousness” looks forward to the coming of Jesus. In the verse before, Jesus is described as burning judgment against the arrogant and evildoers. But for those who revere the name of God, Jesus will come as a “sun of righteousness.” The sun, of course is a terribly hot burning ball that is capable of causing great harm but also is capable of bringing healing and life. Jesus is sort of like this; to those who oppose God, he is a burning fire, but to those who honor God, his heat can bring healing and new life.
Truth be told, the functions are not as different as they seem. Fire purifies and burns away impurities either way. In the same way, Jesus comes to reveal to us what we really are, to show us what parts of us need changing in order to become as God intended us to be. But to those who oppose God, Jesus’ fire seems as if it is cutting to the very core of their being; while those who honor and revere God recognize that God longs to see us purified and that even when Jesus’ fire burns us, it is for our good, to set us on a healthier path in our lives.
I love the image that ends this verse. When we revere God’s name, and allow Jesus’ work to purify rather than terrify us, we “shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” The image is one of youth, of exuberance, of excitement. The picture is clear: when we revere God’s name and learn to live lives in his way, we will be given new life beyond what we can imagine.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 21

Sunday, December 21 Acts 3:1-9
Healing is more important than money.
When going to the Temple to pray, Peter and John met a poor man seeking alms. In so doing, they faced the same temptation many of us seek when we encounter sickness or poverty: to throw money at it, to buy it off. But instinctively Peter and John knew that alms were not the deep desire of the man’s heart—healing was. And so healing is what they offer him, and it is this healing that causes the man to go walking and leaping and praising God.
We spend this time of year surrounded by charitable causes seeking money. Many of them may be worthy causes, and many of them may be good ways for you to touch the world with God’s love. But often we are overwhelmed by such requests and unsure about how to best steward the money God gives us; for every cause we give to there are literally thousands we do not give to. This story reminds us that as people of God, we have more than money to offer people. Money can be useful, but it is not always what people need, even when they think it is what they need. In reality, what we all need is healing, a sense of purpose and belonging, and a reconciliation with the One who created us and our world; and it is these things that we Christians are uniquely suited to bring to the world.
To give money to a problem, in the end, is often the easy way out: it feels good and makes us feel like we are part of the solution, but costs us very little in terms of time or personal investment. Healing, on the other hand, requires our whole being, requires that we enter into relationship with those who we seek to help. It is that kind of love that Christ extended us, and that kind of love we should offer to others.