Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Story’

No Crying He Makes?

Away in a Manger used to be my favorite Christmas hymn and I still think it’s a lovely tune. But I have become critical of it on account of the “no crying he makes” line.

NoCrying

I mean, are we really saying that Jesus wouldn’t have cried? It’s a sign of health when a baby cries; a baby communicates his or her needs through crying!

If* the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus is real, then Jesus cried as a baby.

But this year my son noted that Away in a Manger is kinda babyish. And that prompted me to reflect some more on the lyrics and melody. I gave it some thought and I realized it’s a lullaby. So, yeah, maybe it is kinda babyish.

But also, it occurred to me that as a lullaby, its purpose is to quell cries, to calm a baby or young child.

With that, I thought maybe the line about “no crying he makes” is actually be more of a hope or vision of the lyricist. I mean, as much as we might want scream, “hey kid, knock it off with the crying already!”, that’s only gonna terrorize the infant worse. A positive, future projection of a cessation of crying all packaged in a soothing song is much more gracious.

So, maybe the songwriter never was trying to claim that the baby Jesus wasn’t a crier, rather that he was. He really cried. Because he was a real baby. And babies cry.

And would they please stop already!?

_______

*Of course, I believe it is.

Let It Be – A Dramatic Monologue from the Perspective of Mary

This dramatic, in-character monologue is what I imagine as the continuation of Mary’s story after she hears that she is to bear God’s son as recorded in Luke 1:26-38.

I wrote and presented this at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Greenvine, TX on the 4th Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2014.

Click the following link to listen to the monologue or scroll down to read the manuscript:

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/let-it-be-dramatic-monologue

 

Let It Be

Part 1: Who Me?

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” That’s what I told the angel Gabriel.

“Yes, sir, Gabriel, sir!”

So obedient…like a good little soldier taking orders.

I’ve watched the Roman soldiers enough to see them take their orders. They occupy our land to “keep the peace” by intimidation and threats…or worse. Is there even a soul inside those dutiful shells?

But my orders are from The Lord, the God of my ancestors. I am The Lord’s servant!

Yes, here am I, the servant of the Lord!

But…to let it be with me as Gabriel said? What have I gotten myself into? I’m not ready for a baby. I’m not even married yet!

Oh, this is too much. This is too much, Lord!

I knew my life was changing when I became betrothed to Joseph. I know I’m not the care-free child I was. My mother has been preparing me for my life with Joseph—like she’s trying to fit all the lessons of womanhood in these last few months before we are married.

And of course, I knew that motherhood would come soon after our marriage. Oh, how I have longed to hold a child of my own in my arms!

But this news from the angel Gabriel? Nothing in all of my mother’s lessons prepared me for this.
But sure, Gabriel, “let it be with me according to your word!”

Yet, what else could I say?! It’s not every day an angel of the Lord comes to some random daughter of Israel with such a high, holy commission.

 

Part 2: The Hope of Israel

The angel said I have found favor with God and I am to bear our long-awaited Messiah—God’s Chosen One!

Yes, of course, I’ll do it, Lord. I am your servant. Let it be, let it all be as your angel has said.

This child—my child—will be the fulfillment of the hope of all of Israel—and all the nations of the world will be blessed through this child. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, longing for.

Our land, promised to Abraham, is not our own. We live under these filthy Romans.

But to have our kingdom restored forever? To have my son sit on the throne of his ancestor David?

We will never have to suffer under this foreign army ever again. The Lord has remembered his promises to his faithful servants!

Yes! Let it be Lord! Let it come to pass at last! Lift us up from under the feet of our oppressors and restore us once more!

 

Part 3: Disgrace

Yes, I am to bear the Chosen One because I have found favor with God!

But the timing is a bit perplexing. The angel Gabriel said the time was “now” for this child to be conceived. I asked how exactly that was going to happen since I have not, ahem, been with a man.

The answer was something about the Holy Spirit…It’s all very strange and perplexing.

And as for Joseph, how am I going to explain this to him?

“Well Joseph, you see, the angel Gabriel visited me and said that God was putting the Messiah in my womb.” And if that doesn’t convince him, I’ll just be sure and let him know it’s because I have found favor with God.

Ha!

It will never work. Lord, this will never work! I’m not saying I won’t do it…I just, I know what he will think. I know he will think I have been with another man.

And I know what the law says could happen to me if that is what he thinks. I could be stoned to death.

Lord, I am willing to let it be with me as your angel has said, but I’m not sure if I can sell this Holy Spirit business to Joseph. I confess I do not understand it myself.

 

Part 4: What Kind of Man is Joseph?

How can I explain to Joseph these…circumstances? I realize now how little I know him, how little I know what to say to him, how to explain…myself…to him.

Lord, you know me through and through. I cannot understand how, why you are giving me—me!—this honor.

But this “honor” will only end in my disgrace unless Joseph is the kind of man who will hear me and understand and see your hand in this.

Oh Lord, I cannot explain it to him myself. If I had the power to persuade, I would say a great many things—I would right all the wrongs of this world with my voice.

But words fail me. Power eludes me.

I am your lowly servant. I will do what you say. But on this Lord, I must insist: you must go to Joseph, send your angel, send however many angels it takes to convince him that this is your plan, your doing.

 

Part 5: God Keeps His Promises

Indeed Lord, it is your plan. And it seems impossible.

But your angel reminded me that nothing is impossible with you, oh, Lord.

“Remember your cousin Elizabeth?” Gabriel reminded me.

Dear, sweet Elizabeth.

She has waited so long for her arms to be filled with a child. She had given up hope of ever having a baby of her own.

Oh, the ways you work, Lord! What a wonder! Elizabeth—who we all thought could never have a baby—is six months pregnant—her belly getting bigger by the minute!

Elizabeth who couldn’t be pregnant and I who shouldn’t be pregnant!

If you can work this miracle for Elizabeth, Gabriel is right! Nothing is impossible with you, Oh Most High!

And so I trust you, Lord, my Lord. I know you can do this. I don’t know how, but I know you can, you will! You are faithful to keep your promises and you will do all that the angel said!

And you will deal with Joseph?

Of course you will. I trust you will, and you can!

This is a wonder! I must go and tell my cousin Elizabeth of this news at once!

I am your servant Lord! Let it be with me as you have said!

 

Christmas Glow

Light in Darkness

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. John 1

 

Light has always been an important symbol of Christmas for me.

In 8th grade I wrote a short story about a teenage young woman who was having trouble getting into the “Christmas spirit.” No matter what she did, she couldn’t work up the giddiness she used to feel about the season.

Then in church on Christmas Eve, during the candle lighting ceremony, she had an epiphany. The warm glow of the lights around the darkened sanctuary reminded her of the Good News of Jesus coming into the world to bring the light of God’s love to all people.

The story was a fictional representation of what was in my own heart–and often still is. I don’t get giddy about Christmas anymore like I did when I was a little kid. A lot of the “magic” of Christmas has faded in its importance and impressiveness in my heart and mind.

But this news–that God brings light to our darkness–I need that every-always.

If I’m going to feel anything special at Christmas, it’s almost certain it will involve light (or gel pens, but that’s kind-of the same thing).

During Christmas break in 1994, while I was engaged to my now husband, I got to go as his date to his brother’s wedding in Florida. I was in college in Kentucky at the time and went home to Ohio for Christmas and had my wisdom teeth pulled right after Christmas. I was miserable, but didn’t want to miss the wedding–the first wedding among my now husband and his siblings!

My now sister-in-law Angela was from the area where the wedding was, so she had insider knowledge on local attractions. One of the nights we were there Angela wanted to take us all to a Christmas village of some kind. I didn’t know what to expect and my mouth was sore, and I was weary from travel, so I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go.

But I am so glad I did!

The Christmas village was this whole lot filled with sweetly painted wooden-facade little houses and buildings. All of the little structures were decorated in lights. You could go up and down the “streets” of this village and see all of the places lit up.

I don’t even remember if there was anything distinctively Christian about the display, but the light–Oh! All those lights! They lit up my heart that night and I will always remember the night Angela took us there.

To this day, even if I can’t manufacture any “Christmas spirit,” I am filled with hope, awe, and wonder when I see peeps of light at Christmas in candle lighting ceremonies and light displays.

There’s something about light shining in darkness that speaks to my heart in a way that daylight or a brightly lit room doesn’t quite do.

I often think of my depression as darkness as worries close in on me, and my sense of worth dims. So, I understand darkness all too well. So when tiny lights defy the darkness, I am reminded that God–my God–is bigger than my darkness.

My favorite Psalm says it this way, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139:11-12)

Even in my darkness, my God sees me and knows me and loves me.

Once again this Christmas, I can’t seem to manufacture that giddy Christmas feeling of my childhood. But the glow of God’s love fills me with hope at Christmas time–and always.

May you too know God’s love with a tenacious hope that defies darkness.

Look Who’s Stooping

Sometimes we’re asked to do something that we don’t feel worthy or prepared to do. How does the life and ministry of Jesus affect our sense of worth?

This sermon based on Mark 1:1-8 explores this idea. This was originally preached and recorded on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 7, 2014 at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Greenvine, TX.

Click the following link to listen to the message or scroll down to read the manuscript:

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/look-whos-stooping

 

Look Who’s Stooping

A missed call showed up on my cell phone a few weeks ago. When I saw that it was from Pastor Blair Lundborg from the synod office, I said to my sister-in-law, Karen, “If this is about a job, the answer is ‘yes.’

“Don’t you want to find out what the job is first?” Karen challenged me.

“Well, of course I’ll hear him out before I say ‘yes.’ But I think this is an answer to prayer. I have hoped to find a way to be of service in our synod, and if my synod is calling me about a job, then this might just be what I’ve been waiting for. So, I’m pretty sure it’s a ‘yes.'”

When I got a free moment I returned Pastor Lundborg’s call. It was, in fact, about a job, but to be completely honest with you, when he told me what he had in mind, I was a bit nervous. He invited me to serve as the interim for Emmanuel in Greenvine. This job was a step beyond what I had imagined for myself.

For one thing, an interim assignment—even one at half-time—would mean a great deal more hours than I had worked at a paying job in a very long time. But also, it is a job that is ordinarily filled by an ordained pastor, which I am not.

I found myself rethinking my words to Karen about being able to say, ‘Yes’ on the spot. I did indicate interest, but wanted some time to think it over.

I had to ask, ‘Am I prepared for this ministry?’

After some thought and prayer and conversation with my husband, I realized that, with the help of God, I could do this. So I told Pastor Lundborg I wanted to move forward with the possibility. He got me in touch with y’all and we agreed on a contract for me to come be your interim minister.

The feeling I had about wondering if I was prepared for this assignment, is similar to what John the Baptist experienced. Despite being the one to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist wrestled with his own anxieties about the situation.

John the Baptist had crowds coming to him from the big city and from across the countryside. They were eager to hear his message and receive the baptism he offered.

But John knew that his work was not for his own sake. He was there to point to Jesus.

John himself recognized that Jesus’ ministry was more important than John’s and that Jesus would surpass him. In Mark 1:7-8, John says of Jesus, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of John the Baptist, I imagine him as a rather primitive character. He wore clothes made of camel hair and he ate locusts and wild honey. So, when John talks about feeling “not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals,” I can begin to imagine why.

Yet, as I already noted, he did have crowds coming to him, so he obviously had a good thing going. Still, he had that sense of feeling unworthy compared to Jesus.

Goodness. I can certainly related to feeling unworthy as compared with Jesus. I was even nervous about becoming an interim minister, but John was the opening act for Jesus!

“Not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”

It’s not clear from this text whether John the Baptist knew the identity of the one coming after him.

Did he know that it was his cousin, Jesus? If you’ll recall from the story from the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist was 6 months older than Jesus; their mothers were pregnant around the same time.

I have a lot of cousins, some older and some younger. The older ones will always be people I am in awe of. And the younger cousins will always be people who I knew as babies.

When you think about it, it almost seems strange for John not to feel worthy compared to his baby cousin.
But see, that’s just how disarming Jesus’ story is.

John didn’t feel worthy to stoop down and untie Jesus’ sandals, and yet God himself stooped to become one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And this is the wonder that we behold as we prepare for Jesus birthday at Christmas. Jesus stooped to be born as one of us, to be a baby—even a baby cousin! He stooped to live out life among us—and one of us.

It is worth noting that the name of this church, Emmanuel, means “God with us” in honor of the reality of God stooping to be one of us.

And Jesus stooped lowest of all, enduring the humiliation of a death sentence.

God in Christ Jesus came to be one of us to demonstrate once and for all that we don’t have to do anything to become worthy. Humanity is so loved by God, that God came to be one of us—to live and die and rise again for our sakes.

And through Jesus’ rising from the dead, Jesus proves once and for all that we have nothing left to fear—not even death and the grave. And that with God’s help, we can do more than we thought possible.

So, being an interim minister is new for me. And, this particular pastoral transition is new for you as a congregation. While you’ve had pastors come and go in the past, each pastor is different. There is no one quite like Pastor Rich. And having your lives touched by him has changed you—and from what I can tell, it has changed you for the better. Now that he is no longer pastor here, you too may have your anxieties about your future as a congregation.

Or maybe there are other challenges you’re facing in your daily lives? Perhaps you have a new job, a new school, new friends, or new stage of parenting. Whatever it is, we are often faced with experiences that push us to do more than we feel prepared to do.

Oh, sometimes we might need more training or study to be able to do what is asked of us. And it’s a good idea to take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow in our skills. But let’s not overlook the ways that God can and does work through us right now.

We can entrust our ministry together, our jobs, our classes, our friendships, and our families to our Lord. We don’t have to be anything other than who we are to be dearly loved by the God of the universe. We don’t have to feel unworthy of service in the church and in the world, because we look to and trust the God who stooped for us, empowering us to love and serve in his name.

What Are We Waiting For?

The culture thinks it’s time to celebrate Christmas, but the church tells us to wait and keep watch during these weeks leading up to Christmas day, a time historically known as Advent. But what are we waiting for when we already know the Jesus story?!

This message, based on Mark 13:24-37 was recorded on the first Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014, at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Greenvine, TX.

Click the following link to listen to the message, or scroll down to read the manuscript:

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/what-are-we-waiting-for

 

What Are We Waiting For?

“I know some good games we could play,”

Said the cat.

“I know some new tricks,”

Said the Cat in the Hat.

“A lot of good tricks.

I will show them to you.

Your mother will not mind at all if I do.”

Dr. Suess is one of my all-time favorite writers. Depending on your perspective, Suess’s iconic “Cat in the Hat” is either great fun or a horrible influence. In the books about him, this Cat comes around when the kids are home alone—this might be a clue that he’s trouble. But then he plays these wild games and makes a huge mess.

Somehow his assurance, “Your mother will not mind at all if I do,” fails to convince them. The pet fish speaks up,

“No! No! Make that cat go away!

Tell that Cat in the Hat you do NOT want to play.

He should not be here.

He should not be about.

He should not be here when your mother is out!”

The kids try to choose between the Cat saying, “Your mother will not mind at all,” and the fish saying, “He should not be here when your mother is out!” And it’s kind of like the dilemma we are faced with this time of year.

On the one hand, our culture from Thanksgiving forward is pushing Christmas on us—the holidays have begun! It’s as if our culture is saying to us, “Come and celebrate! Your Savior will not mind at all if you do!”

But the church is a bit like the fish, saying, “No! No! You should not celebrate when Advent is about!” The church is urging us to slow down, to wait, to keep watch, to prepare for Jesus’ coming.

Maybe our culture is a little bit right, our Savior may not mind terribly…but maybe the church is onto something in asking us to wait…

Still…waiting is hard.

And it takes vigilance.

In our Bible reading from Mark, chapter 13, Jesus compares this vigilance to a doorkeeper’s watch—waiting for his master’s return from a journey. “Therefore, keep awake,” Jesus says in verse 35, “for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.”

There was then another time Jesus said to “keep awake.” In the garden before his death on the cross, he invites the disciples to “keep awake” while he prays. He then returns to find them fast asleep. They couldn’t even keep awake a single hour!

Waiting is hard indeed.

But also…it kinda doesn’t make much sense to “wait” when we already know how the story goes! We know there’s a Messiah born and he lived and preached and helped people and then he died on the cross for our sakes and then he rose victorious over death.

We know the story. And so, we might rightfully ask what it is that we’re waiting for anyway?

Well, for one thing good stories deserve retelling. And our Savior will not mind at all if we keep telling it. In fact, that is part of what we are called to do—to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world—to keep telling the story.

And the best stories are the stories in which we want to take part. Our Savior will not mind at all if we do! Indeed, it is precisely when our stories are touched by Jesus’ story that we can be salt and light for the world.

So, the invitation of the church year, which begins today, is to hear the Jesus story once again, bit by bit, week by week. And there are some slow parts—like now with the waiting. And there are some high points with all “glory to God in the highest!” And there are some sad parts with dissension, denial, and death. And there is the victorious part of Jesus triumphing over death.

Again though, it seems like it’s all wrapped up neat and tidy, so what are we waiting for now?

Well, the thing is, the story isn’t over. And the story isn’t over because we’re still here! And even though Jesus has already conquered death, his reign on the earth is not fully established. There are still wars and rumors of wars. There is still brokenness in the lives of God’s created people. And there are still people who need to hear the Good News of God’s love in Christ Jesus.

So, this Advent, we begin again retelling and rehearing the Jesus story—which begins with waiting for that baby to be born! And we remain vigilant, spreading God’s way of love in all we do and say. That which we are waiting for is the full drama of the greatest story ever told—and our Savior will not mind at all if we get caught up in it all over again.