Thursday, December 24, 2009
It's Christmas! The waiting is over, the preparations are done, gifts have been unwrapped, carols have been sung, candlelight services have taken place, hearts have been lifted, and the joy of the Christ child is among us.
I felt as if Christmas may never get here, and I was sure that if it did get here I would not be "in the Christmas Spirit" yet after a Christmas eve, Candlelight Service from 11pm-midnight and a lessons and carols service, I am in the Christmas Spirit. I am in awe of the joy and calmness I have right now, it never fails, a night spent in worship of the newborn King, a night of quiet reflection, pure worship, a small flame and soothing hymn can change an entire week of emotions and busyness.
Christ the child, Christ the King, born to us this day in the city of David. The longing is over, the joy of this precious gift that we get everyday (as opposed to once a year) is settling in and being spread from person to person as the day continues on.
I do not think words can express the feeling of standing there reading scripture from the prophet Isaiah about the child that is born for us, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Words cannot express the fullness of a darkened sanctuary, with light being passed around as you sing of the Savior's birth. Words cannot express the joy, peace, hope, and love and the longing for this all year long. So that is what I do, I turn with my heart and life towards the God that created me and loved me enough to send Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Messiah, my Savior, my life and my heart longing for this joy not just through the Christmas season but throughout the entire year. An attitude that starts now, that I should be held accountable to.
May you have a most blessed Christmas full of the hope, love, joy, and peace of the Christ child, and may it be sustained as you go throughout the year.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Someone mentioned to me today that we have 10 days until Christmas!! As my finals are ending and I realize I have made it through yet another semester (I'm still alive!) I think back on the last year and a half and how much I have grown, maybe not matured per say, but grown. Through the good, the bad, the ugly, the easy, the difficult, whatever life has thrown my way I've made it through and persevered. I think about this because on Monday last week I thought there was no way in the world I was going to make it through tomorrow (my last final!). I thought that over 30 pages worth of papers, 2 exams, and an oral presentation were too much for me to handle, too much to take on, and not enough time to do it all. Now it's not to say that I did not stay up late every night last week and type my fingers off along with studying for hours, however, I made it. Throughout the week I was constantly reminding myself that the things I encounter in this world are not bigger than the God I love and serve. Even though I had homework up to my ears, I was still able to serve my friends when they needed an ear to listen. Even though I thought I had to spend every moment working on school work, I was able to take time to just be, to take a break and enjoy things like music and scripture, church, and my personal favorite nerf guns. If there is one thing that stands out to me about the last couple of weeks it has to be that my focus and my love of this Advent season has grown, my longing for the coming of the Lord is stronger now than any longing for Santa Clause when I was younger. I catch myself longing to read about the birth of Christ, God made incarnate, longing to read from Isaiah about he child that is born to us: For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 I find myself humming Advent tunes and teaching myself the melodies on the piano in the middle of the night. I find myself talking about Christmas, and finding joy in this Advent season. In the midst of dead week and finals week I was able to see the light (although sometimes the light seemed pretty dim) and I was able to cling to the Advent hope that the things of this world hold no authority because all authority rests upon Christ's shoulders, the peace of mind that Christ is the only one in position to condemn me and Christ died for me (not my professors), the joy that the God who created the stars in the sky created me and as small as I am in this world I have the love of the Everlasting Father, that love that was born on Christmas morning. As I continue finishing up this semester and head "home" I will continue living in the season of Advent. Living in the hope, peace, joy, and love that surround me not only this time of the year but always. I go from this place thinking that I have been worn down and stressed out when in fact I have been lifted up to see how awesome this season of Advent really is. I leave having learned a lot of practical information and challenging myself to learn and apply new ideas and concepts, I leave knowing I have new friends to return to, a new church family that I love, a job that is AWESOME, and I leave knowing that this Christmas break is going to be one full of personal growth as well. I am preaching at a Festival of Young Preachers in January and it is going to be an experience of a lifetime! In February I am taking a trip to Princeton Theological Seminary, a road trip at that, and it is going to be another awesome experience. Life is going on, God has bigger plans that two weeks of stress and worry. God has things in store for my life that I am excited about, just as much as I'm excited about Christmas in 10 days! I pray that just as I have found a new and heart felt longing for Christmas, others too will find the joy and the hope in the coming of the King of Kings, the Alpha and the Omega...May we remember that our problems are temporary but God's grace and love are from everlasting to everlasting, and that is a reason to rejoice.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
This weekend a group of us went on a retreat to Brown Co. Indiana, more specifically a little town called Bean Blossom. In short, we were in the middle of NOWHERE! It was pretty awesome!The focus of the retreat was self care, not worrying, making sure our focus was not on the troubles of the world but instead on God and Christ. This is a challenge for college student during this time of the year because we are in "dead week" or some are in finals week. All that we have worked for all semester comes down to taking these final exams and being at the mercy of our professors! Emotions are high, stress is an understatement, and we feel like there is no way in the world that everything we need to get done will get done. The light at the end of the tunnel is there but for many during this time of the year it is very dim.
So to share a little thought with you, I use the passage we talked about on the retreat...
Matthew 6:25-34 (NRSV)
Do Not Worry
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
I have heard this passage interpreted in many different ways. This weekend when Laura asked us what images came to mind in this passage, I could not help but see a person going around gathering and trying to store up everything that they thought they needed to get through in this life. While doing this God is trying to show them the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, the grass, the food, the drink, the clothing, and the person is so caught up in trying to do all alone that they neglect to see the God who created them and cares for them.
How often do we get so caught up in providing things for ourselves and our loved ones that we neglect to see what God is showing us or we neglect to hear what God is telling us? I don't believe God says don't worry so that we will spend all of our time telling God our problems, I believe God is saying "don't worry, because when you get caught up in worrying about the things of this world, you lose sight of the promise I have given you of hope and of peace. When you get caught up in worrying about these things you fail to remember that I created you and I love you and that I am here for you. You spend so much time doing, doing, doing, and going, going, going, that you miss the glimpses of heaven in everyday life."
So do not worry, not during this advent season and not ever. Not because God wants you to spend all of your time in prayer asking God to make your burden light, but because God is calling and God is revealing, open your eyes and ears to the wonders of God's love and God's work in the world around us. Slow down, take time to just be, take time to look at the stars and to watch the sunrise without thinking of the 101 things you have to do later. Do not be afraid to get caught up in the overwhelming majesty of God.
Saturday night on the retreat we all laid on the picnic table and stood around looking at stars, watching shooting stars and just being in awe of the small amount of the universe that we could see. Then Sunday morning I woke up to a most simple but gorgeous sunrise. The sunrise was a reminder that though night sand darkness surrounds us, but instead that the sun does rise again. Just as the sun rose this morning the Son rises in all of our dark days, bringing us hope, peace, joy, and love. The sunrise this morning was a reminder of the Advent season. Just as we long for the dark and dreary days to end, we long for the coming of our Lord and Savior. Just as we light candles to remind us of Christ's light in the world around us, we see the sun brighten the sky and are reminded of the ever present Emmanuel, God with us.
This is a new week, a week where we are reminded of God's peace while still holding to the hope of the Christ child we are awaiting. How amazing is the promise we hold in Christ? The hope that says because of the birth we long to celebrate in just a few short weeks, we have eternal life with the God who created the universe, this galaxy, each star, each animal, and each of our lives. In the weeks to come, don't worry, don't forget to see God, don't forget to stop and listen. Christ came, Christ lives, Christ is coming again, thanks be to God!!
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I hope and pray that during Advent our focus on being Chrsit's light in the world around us will be completely hopeful, hopeful for the celebration of Christ's birth in the past, Christ's presence today and tomorrw, and Christ's return! After all that is what we are celebrating. May we all be aware of the peace Jesus came to bring. The peace Jesus left with us and gave us, just as He gave of himself.
Advent is by far my favorite season of the church, not because it means Christmas is drawing closer each day. Not because I love to shop, not because I love getting gifts, but because the lectionary focuses on the incarnation of the one who came into this world as a humble servant, living for me, dying for me, raising from the grave for me, and continually intereceding for me. It is a time for me to focus on what makes this time of year so special. A new beginning to the church season, to refocus and gain a new perspective each time we come into the season. There is always something to learn, each year, each season, each day, each minute. It all depends on where our hearts are. Are our hearts focused on Christ, the reason for the season? Or are our hearts focused on the "Holiday Season" of America? Are we more worried about the perfect gift than we are the fact that Jesus Christ is alive and living, that the reason we celebrate is because of the precious gift God blessed us with?
Advent in America is tough stuff, but my prayer is that we can keep Christ at the center of the season. Sometimes it just takes a reminder, I am often guilty of getting caught up in what the culture has made the holiday...but Advent is a reminder that it is a HOLY DAY...and that is what should be the focus!
Monday, November 23, 2009
Sunday was Christ the King Sunday, Thursday is Thanksgiving, and next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent!! As I begin to prepare for Advent, for the coming of the King, I look back on the year and am amazed at what has taken place in just a year. Advent not only marks the beginning of preparations for Christmas, it marks a new liturgical year! What better way to end the liturgical year than by celebrating who Christ is, the Alpha and the Omega, the hope in the world, the light in the darkness. I think it is very fitting for Thanksgiving to fall right before Advent starts, a day where we gather with family and friends, a day to give thanks for life's blessings, and we cannot forget a day to eat some really good food!
The last 12 months have been life changing for me. 12 months of continual, focused discernment, living each day serving a God who is present all around me. It has been an exciting 12 months, I was ordained as an elder in my church, served for 10 weeks as an intern at my home church, applied to preach at a Festival of Young Preachers in just under 50 days, declared a Theological Studies major, set up a visit to Princeton Theological Seminary in February, started attending a new church while at Hanover, have taken on some new leadership positions on campus, and have been continually looking for opportunities to serve my brothers and sisters in Christ while serving an awesome God! It is so awesome to be able to sit down at night and reflect on the day, to ask myself where I have seen God at work in the world around me, where I have been aware of God working in and through me! I am thankful for all of these things and so much more!
Serving and sharing God with the world around me is the most joyful thing I do. The thing I am most thankful for this year is learning how to continually be rooted in Christ. By being rooted I am able to live in love (Ephesians 5:1), I am able to be strengthened in all situations. I am able to be a light in the darkness, to be captured again by the love of God on a daily basis. Life often has its ups and downs, we climb a mountain and fall into the valley, but as we were reminded on Christ the King Sunday, we do not walk alone; Christ the shepherd carries us, walks beside us, goes through the narrow places with us, and leads us into the tough dark places of life. One of the best images I turn to in reading scripture is that Christ is constantly going ahead of the disciples and preparing a way for them. He would walk ahead of them, he was ahead of the sick, the poor, the children, and the widows. Jesus Christ is always in the middle of life's storms as well. In the boat Jesus was there in the middle of the storm to calm it, and when the men brought the paralyzed man to see Jesus, He was inside the house as they lowered him down! Our Shepherd prepares the way for us and is in this life walking with us. Jesus did not stand back and let others do the work, Jesus Christ got down and dirty to serve us!
As we prepare for Advent, as we prepare for the King, let us keep in mind that Jesus Christ is our shepherd, Jesus Christ goes before us to prepare the way, Jesus Christ walks with us through the calm, through the storm, through the good the bad and the ugly! No matter what the cold and dark winter brings, the reminder of the Advent Candles, burning brightly in a world that often seems dark and dreary. Jesus Christ is the light; the hope, the joy, the love, and the peace we long for!
May we all be rooted in Christ during this Advent season, during this new liturgical year! May Jesus Christ be the center of our focus, not the presents, the food, the rush, the money, the perfection of Christmas as America knows it, but may we be reminded of a King who is with us always, to the very end of the age, now and forever. May we join as a nation of believers to shine brightly, reflecting the love of Christ not just for the next few weeks of Advent, but for the new year that is to come.
Be thankful for a loving Shepherd, be thankful for Advent, be thankful for each other, and be thankful for the opportunity to serve one another in all that we do. To God be the glory now and forever!
May the picture above be a reminder of the path we all follow each day, whether it be smooth like the asphalt, rough like the stone, crunchy like the leaves, may it always be beautiful serving the God who created us and knows us intimately!