Monday, December 24, 2012

Secret And Sacred

As most of you are aware, the world was supposed to end last Friday on December 21, 2012. This thinking was connected to the ending of the Mayan calendar which some assumed was a secret sign of some sort that the Mayans had figured out centuries ago. Many scientists, astronomers, astrologers and everyday folk have sought to unlock the mysteries of ancient civilizations and discover the secrets of how they lived and what they believed. People are always looking for the next big event! As we approach Christmas Day there was a big event that took place not with fanfare but in quietness and holiness. The professors at my alma mater Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary put together a devotional for the Advent season. One entry in particular caught my attention. It was written by Dr. Peter Kuzmic and focused on preparations for the last celebration Jesus had with His disciples before His crucifixion. Dr. Kuzmic pointed out how "Jesus undertakes several measures of precaution and makes secret arrangements to avoid premature arrest and have privacy for the last and most significant meal with His disciples." Dr. Kuzmic made the point in his devotional that even in the midst of all the chaos and turmoil surrounding Jesus that night, He is always in control and will make provision to spend time of intimate fellowship with those He loves. As I was meditating on this devotional it occurred to me that God at times moves in secret to draw us into the sacred. Jesus drew His disciples into the sacredness and intimacy of that last meal. Likewise when Jesus was born, it was not accompanied by a grand birth announcement to the world but to shepherds watching their flocks by night. (Luke 2:8-15) In the secrecy of Jesus' birth, the shepherds were drawn into the sacredness of that moment, even as the slaughter of boys age 2 and under was happening at the same time per Herod's decree. (Matthew 2:16) God wants to quietly draw each of us into that sacred space in our hearts so we can experience anew the power and the presence of the One who came to redeem us from our sins. Even as the world is in a state of chaos and people are scrambling to get those last minute gifts before the stores close, a baby's cry is once again breaking through the noise. Can you stop long enough to hear it? Can you be quiet enough to enter into the sacred? Can you like Mary treasure up the good news of Christ's birth and ponder it in your heart? (Luke 2:19) I pray that this will be your heart's desire this Christmas season.
Pastor Sheree

Sunday, December 16, 2012

One Child

In the wake of the tragedy that took place last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut there is a consistent theme that has been repeated over and over again. People in their pain and confusion continue to ask the question,"why did this happen?" A similar sentiment expressed is "how could this happen in such a small, quiet town like this?" "We did not expect that something like this could happen in our town." The reality is that there is no town or city or country in the world that is immune from such a tragedy. Although we cannot not know what the shooter's motivation was or the extent of his possible mental illness, spiritually the answer to the question "why?" can be summed up in three letters, SIN. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) all of humanity and creation was plunged into darkness as the world became tainted with sin. Human beings from that point forward chose to engage in behavior that was self centered and ignorant toward the Creator who made all things. Somewhere along the way talking about sin became "politically incorrect" and slowly some churches began to stop preaching about sin lest they be seen as judgmental and out of touch with the times. However, the reality is that all of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) The poor choice made in the garden has affected us all, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned--for before the law was given, sin was in the world... (Romans 5:12-13a) The free will that God has granted us a human beings can be used for good or evil and He does not delight when we choose to use our free will for evil purposes. God weeps with the suffering and sorrow of the parents and community of Newtown. Mental illness, sickness, death and all things that are "wrong" within our world are all a part of the brokenness of a world tainted by sin. But this is not the end of the story. In fact this is why we celebrate Christmas. It is in the birth of Christ and ultimately His death and resurrection that sin and death have been conquered. "For if, by the trespass of one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ... For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:17,19) God understands what it is to lose a child. What is more remarkable is God voluntarily gave up His Son who was sinless to became the sacrifice for sinful humanity so we could be forgiven and have restoration of the broken relationship that existed between us and God. (Romans 8:3-4) I was saddened to hear that some of the folks in Newtown had taken down their Christmas decorations because according to the news media they reportedly were no longer in a "festive mood." While their pain and grief is very real and raw at this point in time, I pray that they will be able to heal and come to recognize that while 20 children and 7 adults left this world, one child came into the world to save it. And one day soon there will be a second coming. In that day, Jesus will return as King of kings and Lord of lords. He has promised that what is now broken in this world will be made whole. (Revelation 21:1-5) Jesus is the hope for this world. He Himself told His disciples, "In this world you will have trouble. (murders, suicide, mental illness, sickness, etc. italics mine) But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) So while we grieve with Newtown, Connecticut, let us not forget the one child we celebrate who as the risen Savior and Lord is making all things new. 
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Sheree

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lessons From Charlie Brown

Each year at Christmas the T.V. networks often broadcast what we call the "classics." These are the television programs that have become familiar favorites that many people over the years have watched and take on a special place of nostalgia in our lives. One of my favorites is "A Charlie Brown Christmas." I have often sympathized with Charlie Brown as his best efforts to fit in have often resulted in frustration. However, in this classic Christmas tale we come to see reflections of the Biblical Narrative surrounding the birth of Christ. For those who are unfamiliar with the story or need a quick review, Charlie Brown is upset and depressed over the commercialization of Christmas. Have any of you experienced these feeling? (Think of people stampeding over one another at Best Buy to get the latest and greatest electronic devices.) Charlie Brown visits his resident psychiatrist (a.k.a. Lucy) who suggests he think about directing the nativity play. When Charlie Brown arrives at rehearsals, he is once again in anguish as he sees his friends partying and dancing without any consideration for the true meaning of Christmas. Charlie Brown decides to bring a little Christmas reality to bear upon the situation by going out to purchase a Christmas tree. His friends encourage him to buy one of those "bright, shiny, aluminum trees." However upon arriving at the Christmas tree lot, Charlie Brown's attention and heart are captured by a small, sickly looking baby tree (ironically and symbolically it is the only real tree on the lot) which brings some concern and uncertainty to his friend Linus. Upon returning with the tree, he is mocked and ridiculed by his friends for once more making a "block headed" choice. In despair Charlie Brown expresses his concern that his friends are right and he may not really understand the true meaning of Christmas. What follows is a remarkable transformation beginning with Linus' recitation of the birth of Christ from the gospel of Luke 2:8-14. Charlie Brown makes a decision to try and salvage his mistake by taking the tree home and decorating it himself which once again ends in failure. His friends moved by Linus' "preaching of the gospel" have a heart change and decorate the tree unbeknownst to Charlie Brown. Upon discovering what they have done, the cartoon ends with Charlie Brown and his friends recognizing and experiencing the true meaning of Christmas as they sing "Hark The Herald Angels Sing."I have seen this cartoon many times and the overriding message can be easily discerned by anyone following the story. However as I meditated on this story I discovered some interesting Biblical insights. Mary and Joseph in some ways were the "Charlie Browns" in their day. Mary knew the baby she was carrying was special but she was written off like Charlie Brown as having made a poor choice in becoming pregnant. Joseph, like Linus, although uncertain about what lay ahead supported Mary. When they arrived in Bethlehem people were so caught up in the frenzied activity of the census that they paid little attention to the miracle in their midst. (Sounds a lot like the frenzy of Christmas shoppers who choose not to take the time to see the miracle in their midst.)  Following the angel's announcement to the shepherds (quoted by Linus in the cartoon) it wasn't the frenzied people who responded but those who weren't even included in the census, whose hearts were touched and moved at the news of Christ's birth. That baby tree that moved Charlie Brown's heart was symbolic of the baby who still moves and changes people's hearts today. Charlie Brown was not swayed by the bright, shiny and artificial aluminum trees that his friends thought symbolized Christmas. And as Linus' recitation of the gospel changed the hearts of Charlie Brown's friends, so the Christmas story can change the hearts of humanity. Don't be fooled by the artificiality of Christmas. See what Charlie Brown saw on that tree lot, the potential, possibility, and power of what Christmas is all about. Let your heart be captured once again by the One who is the heart and soul of Christmas. "Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King!"
To God be the glory!
Pastor Sheree