By Chris Rogers
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Or even better yet, Joyous Christmas!
And even better still, Loving Christmas!
Today’s reading is the Bible’s classic Love Chapter. The classic it is, but it is never, ever static, nor shall it ever be!
Worthy of being etched in marble? Most certainly!
Old, dead, passé, irrelevant, or out of date? Not a chance!
Who of us can read this chapter and not in some way be deeply convicted by it? Who among us has always upheld the highest virtues of this simple devotional of only 215 words? In our individual encounters, in our off-line communications, within our families, within our community of faith? Has love always been the predominant feature in all our relationships?
Unfortunately and sadly, I think not. In fact, I know not! I know, because I know my own heart.
We usually do really well with the love thing until someone disappoints or seemingly betrays us. Then, what was love slowly morphs into silent bitterness, then fault- finding, then attack, then defense, and on and on the loveless episode begins … and inevitably ends. We tend to adjudicate our own actions by our stellar intentions, but we harshly judge others by their bare, unadorned actions. We give ourselves the benefit of every doubt, while withholding this same benefit from others, particularly those who have offended us in some way.
On this Christmas Day, let us allow the Love Chapter to instruct us, correct us, guide us, remind us, revive us. There’s no reason to turn I Corinthians 13 into a chapter of condemnation … that would not be love, would it? But this precious passage needs to be etched on the walls of our awareness for time and eternity so that we will constantly gauge our words and actions against it.
And speaking of time and eternity, won’t it be a glorious day when we all witness God’s love winning it all? It’s hard to imagine, but we need to begin dreaming about it and turning our hearts toward it … on this Christmas Day and throughout 2014.
Hope, peace, joy and love to you and yours!
By Carol Hagler
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another.
Our culture often describes a favorable impression of some event, thing, or person as love. As in, “I love that gift you found!” “ Don’t you just love his sense of humor?”
My parents loved the Christmas season. Walking through their home during the holidays was walking in a Christmas delight with both familiar touches and new surprises each year. Mom and Dad loved spending time together creating the outward evidence of their inward love of Christmas and loved sharing the beautiful creations with friends and family. However, their enjoyment is more accurately described as liking the event, not loving it.
Perhaps, our casual use of the word love is part of the reason that we often have difficulty in understanding the scope, the depth, the import of the love that Jesus commands in John 13:34, let alone in practicing it. Make no mistake, this love is commanded, not suggested, by the Lord with “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). It is the same love that He gives to us. It is unconditional, unselfish, and even though it may be unreciprocated or unappreciated, this servant love identifies us as followers of the King of Kings.
In a world that rushes through its days, especially this time of year, always searching for more: more things, more influence, more approval, more significance, Jesus has a simple solution. He tells us that this love is easily recognized and significant in a seeking world: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) More importantly, His life is the model of servant love, and He is the source of love in us.
What can you do this Advent season to show Christ’s love and demonstrate that Christ, the Lord of the universe, is the Lord of your time and your purpose, and is the source of love in your life?
By Randy Edwards
1 Peter 1:8
As children, we gain lot of joy from receiving Christmas gifts. Gifts all wrapped up and placed carefully under the tree. Gifts about which we can wonder and guess and get all excited! Gifts which, on Christmas morning, we can tear into to finally discover all the fun stuff hidden in those beautiful, whimsical packages that have been teasing us for days or even weeks!
As we grow older, the fun of opening gifts may well remain, but the meanings behind those gifts begin to take on much more significance with age and maturity. We begin to understand that gifts are actually symbols of much larger, deeper expressions.
For instance, God’s gift to us on the first Christmas morning was not just a sweet baby boy names Jesus. The package wrapped crudely in the manger stood for SO much more than what was visible to the human eye. The gift was disarmingly humble, so simple, earthy, naked, exposed, and shivering both from the trauma of birth and perhaps from the nighttime outdoor temperatures. A newborn in a cattle feeder. How much simpler can it be than that?
And yet, that bundle of joy was also the very Son of God. Emmanuel. God with us. The divine symbol of that scenario has mystified God-seeking people throughout the ages, and it continues to stagger the imagination of young and old in 2013.
Re-read the little verse above from 1 Peter. Think about or discuss how it is that we can love God, believe God, and greatly rejoice in a Gift we have not seen with our eyes, touched with our fingers, or held in our arms.
May your hope be abundant. May your peace be profound. May your joy be inexpressible. May your love be complete.
By Garrett Vickrey
Be convicted. We need this song of Mary. We need it before we give another gift. Before we shop for that last gift. Before we meet at the manger.
We need to be reminded by Mary of what this season is all about. We need to be reminded that the best start to the Advent season is not Black Friday but Thanksgiving. If we start with thanks rather than the entitlement mentality of the consumerist craze of the buy more, care less culture, then we put ourselves in the right posture to receive the hope, peace, joy, and love of the Advent Season is all about.
Chances are we’ve fallen off the advent bandwagon at some point and we need to remember Christmas through the eyes of Mary… or the shepherds. Christmas isn’t about your family. Christmas isn’t about your kids. It’s not about your church. It’s about the light of the world—the one true God coming to us in the flesh.
Mary’s song reminds us that Christmas is for the hungry. Those who don’t have enough to eat. Those who don’t have a roof over their head. The poor and oppressed. Christmas is for people hungry for meaning and purpose. People hungry for a place in this world. That’s all of us at some point. But, the Christmas story reminds us that it was only the hungry who showed up at the manger.
If you are going to Bethlehem this Christmas show up hungry. The only road into town goes by the lepers and day laborers watching the fields. They need your coat. They need a couple dollars for a sandwich. And we need their hunger… for justice and for a savior.
Our souls will magnify the Lord when we give like he does.
By Norm Dugas
“Joy to the world! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King.”
Most of the time, we experience joy for very individual reasons. My team wins the big game and I am joyful (just not this year). In this case, my joy may be another person’s heartbreak.
Family brings us another opportunity for personal joy. Most weeks, I get to see my two year old grandson, Bryce, on Sunday mornings at church. What joy I experience when he squeals my name and runs to greet me. His little arms hug my neck and all is right in my world.
The joy we experience in God’s love is different. It is not dependent on how well we did that week. It is not a zero sum game, where one person’s joy is balanced by someone else’s sorrow. God’s love is available to all, in abundance, ours for the asking.
Imagine the joy of the sinner in Psalm 40, where the Lord hears his cry, lifts him out of the slimy pit of mud and mire, and sets his feet on a rock, giving him a firm place to stand. This joy is available to all of us through Jesus, our rock. Merry Christmas to all from God’s greatest gift.
“Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.”
By David Dillingham
How many people have you known who have made poor decisions in a quest for happiness?
The joy of Christ extends well beyond the boundaries of human happiness. Joy is always an indirect result of the receiving and giving of grace. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, gives detailed instructions for how we must treat one another in order to discover real joy.
Be devoted to one another in love.
Give preference to one another in honor.
Be diligent and fervent in your service to the Lord.
Rejoice in hope.
Persevere in tribulation. Remain in an attitude of prayer.
Don’t be hypocritical.
Avoid evil like the plague. Cling to that which is good.
Happiness may come and last a short while as a result of receiving a material gift.
But the advent of joy comes from being filled with the hope, peace, and love offered by God With Us, Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace and Lord of Lords.
When grace fills our lives with Jesus’ love and moves freely to and fro, we’ll suddenly discover ourselves filled with joy.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing!
By Diana Bridges
I’m always a little troubled when I read that someone “doesn’t suffer fools gladly.” Rather than being a sign of enlightenment or sophistication, it strikes me as a mark of willful blindness. In John 1:14 the apostle declares that “…we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.” Certainly, many who heard Jesus teach and experienced his healing touch saw the glory for what it was, a sign that God was indeed among them. Others saw his unconventional behavior—healing, forgiving sins, speaking easily and kindly with women, sinners, cultural outsiders—and judged him to be out of his mind.
In Wonderful Fool, Japanese Christian author Shusako Endo tells the story of Gaston Bonaparte, an awkward, trusting Frenchman who is an embarrassment to his Japanese hosts. He stumbles through a variety of misadventures, trying to help others, but far from heroic. Through his unremitting goodness, however, he ends up saving lives and giving others new purpose.
In this fictional account, Endo points out two things that have always been true. First, spiritual light often comes from strange and unexpected sources. St. Anthony, the best-known of the Desert Fathers, could have given John the Baptist a run for his money when it came to asceticism. Francis of Assisi, when taken to court by his father for giving away family resources, left the courtroom—and his clothes—behind to follow Jesus. 20th-century Baptist saint Will Campbell became very unpopular for his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement and then confounded even his admirers by reaching out in friendship to opponents of integration. Second, people who are paying attention are much more likely to recognize light when they see it.
This is our joyful Advent task. Be on the lookout. And don’t just look in the usual places.
By Nikki Blair
in the silence of night, God
whispers a Word, delivering our salvation, and
shapes the light, revealing all that is right
in the silence of night, God
hovers over the waters of creation, the very waters of birth,
remembers that it is good
that it is love
on a starlit hillside,
in the silence of night, God
bursts out in song:
harp! trumpet! choir! glory!
makes known the jubilant gift of life!
(no subtle whisper–
no delicate glimmer–
no solemn scene–)
but cacophony! shout! hallelujah!
now river, sing! mountain, sing! creation, sing!
in the silence of night, sing!
sing of God’s marvels:
earth, star, green, dust, breath, Child!
sing of God’s mercies:
friend, partner, promise, justice, Kingdom!
sing in the suffocating silence
sing in the darkest night
for the whole wide beloved world, sing joy!
By Vaughan Ballinger
Today’s scripture is Luke 2:8-10, “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they are terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, I bring good news of GREAT JOY that will be for ALL the people.”
What steals your joy? What gives you joy? My childhood Sunday School teacher in PA taught us JOY is: Jesus Others Yourself. Do we daily find ourselves looking to Jesus first in all situations big and small? Then we help others and ourselves. The angel told Mary and Joseph to not be afraid in the midst of a society questioning her pregnancy. Questioning how will they provide for a king child and going where. Then it says the GREAT joy is for ALL. Not just the wealthy, social elite, top academic person but to ALL.
My mental health social worker sister-in-law told me many years ago while working with youth that Stressor + Reaction = Stress. Can I change the stressor or can I choose to change my reaction? Looks like the angel is telling them to change their reaction and reassured them that JESUS will become their JOY.
May you sing and live with the gift of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love unwrapped.
By Gina Garrison
Mary was bursting with delight! She was to be the mother of the Messiah! Her song of gratitude, humility, and praise overflowed in this passage from Luke. Even today, her wonder and joy fill our hearts as we, like Mary, prepare for the coming of Jesus.
Although few of us have a visit from an angel or a prophetic dream revealing our mission, each of us has a unique role to play in God’s creation. Each of us was created out of God’s love, and each of us, like Mary, has a purpose and a calling. We may never know the impact of our lives, but we all are part of God’s perfect plan. Our daily interactions with family, friends, teachers, students, co-workers, patients, customers and neighbors form the foundation of our part in building God’s kingdom.
Take a moment today to express your love and gratitude to a family member. Tell a friend that their support and advice is appreciated. Take some cookies or tamales to a neighbor. Extend an unexpected kindness to a stranger. Most importantly, spend a moment in prayer to thank the Creator for the blessing of the birth of Jesus.
Rejoice in God the Savior!