Friday, December 30, 2016

What’s In a Name? (Luke 2:1-21) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

What’s in a name?  Not much really.  It’s just a word, a sound, a label.  Names tend to capture our attention at different times in life, even at Christmas.  Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, in the nondescript town of Bethlehem, 2000 years ago, is the largest celebration around the world each year.  It’s astounding.  His birthday brings out massive crowds and traffic jams in places like Rome, New York City, Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, and Jerusalem.  And like all babies, after this child was born, his parents gave him a name.

The Gospel of Luke says: “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

Perhaps names are after all important   We get rather attached to them.  Parents trying to decide on what to name their newborn is a big undertaking in our culture.  A five-year old boy who lives next door to our home, is always surprised when I say, “Hi Daniel.”  He replies, “You know my name?”  I’m thinking yes Daniel, because you told me your name a few times.

We are sensitive about people mispronouncing our names or calling us by the wrong name.   Our identity is wrapped up in our name.  Names are critical in genealogy,  when exploring  one’s heritage, one’s family tree.   To be called “Hey you” or “You, over there” all your life would be dehumanizing.

Why did your parents select your name?  We are often called different names by people over time, pet names, nick names, etc.  Upon returning to San Diego where I was born, after we had been away for 33 years, during which people called me Alan, it sounded strange to once again hear friends I grew up with calling me” Al.”

Why did you choose certain names for your children?  Matthew, our first son is named after the first book of the New Testament.  We decided not to name our second son Mark because we knew we would go through life with people asking - “So where are Luke and John?”  While watching Olympic speed skater Eric Heiden during the 1980 Olympics, we decided we liked the name Eric and chose that name for our second son.

Yes, names are important.   A minister friend told me about a wedding he officiated at.  Afterward, the family approached him and said: “Pastor, it was a beautiful wedding, but our daughter’s name is Jennifer not Janet.”  Names are sometimes rooted in the family, like Johnson, the son of John.  Puritans in 17th century New England gave their children names that reflected Christian virtues, like Purity, Prudence, Chastity and Charity.  Children are named after occupations like Shoemaker or Baker.  Today, naming a child after an occupation doesn’t fit quite as well: “This is my son Project Manager or this is my daughter software engineer.”

The Bible employs numerous names for Jesus.    In fact, there are over 200 names and titles for Christ found in the Bible.  Don’t worry, we won’t review them one-by-one.  A mother writes: “While watching the movie The Ten Commandments on television, our four-year-old daughter Melissa learned that one of God's names in the Old Testament is Yahweh, which is best translated "I Am That I Am."  During the following week, true to her contrary style, Melissa strode about the house announcing: "I'm not that I'm not.”

Today, Christmas Day, we pause to reflect upon the names for the child born in Bethlehem. The Gospel writer John called him Logos, the Word, the Light, and also, the Son of God.  Matthew called him the King of the Jews.

The Gospel writer Luke called him Jesus!  “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”   The contemporary song writer Bill Gaither wrote a song titled: "Jesus, There's Just Something About That Name."

Jesus in Greek literally means "Savior” or” One who Saves," a name which shows forth God’s purpose in sending Jesus to the world, to bring salvation, to save us from our sins.

Scripture says the wages of sin is death.   Jesus saves us from sin, guilt, evil and death.  God forgives our sins in Jesus and reconciles us to Himself.  Jesus saves us from self-centeredness and sets us free to love others.  Jesus saves us to give us a new beginning, a new start in our lives.  Jesus saves us from darkness and brings us into the light.  Jesus saves us to love God and to love others.  That’s why God sent Jesus, to bring salvation to the world.

The Greek word which Matthew uses for Jesus is “Christ or Christos” which is a title, and means God’s Anointed one.  Messiah in Hebrew, and Christ in Greek are titles, both meaning God’s anointed one. God’s anointed Jesus to be the spiritual leader of Israel, the one the Jews were long awaiting.

Christ brings God’s Kingdom on earth, not a political kingdom, not a military kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom.  One enters God’s kingdom through conversion, by making a confession of faith in Christ as one’s Lord and Savior.  Christ came to be your leader, your ruler, your king, your deliverer.  God anointed Christ to lead us and guide us and empower us through the struggles and disappointments and decisions of our daily lives.

Another name Matthew uses is Emmanuel!  We read: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel which means ‘God with us.’”  This is a name about Jesus’ presence and power.  It’s no wonder the angel said; “Do not be afraid.”  You lose your fear when you know God is near you each and every day of your life.  Immanuel says you are not alone: God is with you. God is for you, God is within you.  It means we have the opportunity to walk daily with God.   We can have a personal relationship with God in Christ.

Each name for Jesus is special, meaningful; each name highlights a particular aspect of Jesus’ identity and mission.   No one name can contain him.  No one name can explain him.  No one name can limit or hold him.  There is power when you call upon this name, the power to change your life, the power to save, the power to lead, the power to begin again, the power for renewal, the power for liberation.

Today we celebrate the story of the love and power of God come down from heaven as a newborn baby named Jesus.  It’s a story which can’t be bound to a single name, because Jesus is too great.  Jesus is greater than any one name.    Jesus is instead magnified by the names given to him.   What’s in a name?  Perhaps more than you can imagine.

I close with this quote from Philippians: “God gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the father.”   Amen!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Simple Gifts (Philippians 4:15-20) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

In case you're stressed about getting ready for Christmas, with all the shopping, cleaning, and putting up Christmas decorations, one company is trying to help.  Tesco, a British supermarket company, posted an ad for a new job - a Christmas Light Untangler.

The company's website offered the following description for the 36-hour-a-week job: "This new position will offer you the chance to run the unique in-store service with a friendly, flexible approach and making a genuine difference to the little things that matter to our customers this Christmas.  The first duty includes managing the Christmas Lights Untangling stand.  Candidates should be able to untangle 10 feet of Christmas lights in less than three minutes as well as check the bulbs for signs of breakage. The ideal candidate would also "be passionate about Christmas."   Finally, someone to help untangle those Christmas lights from last year.

In the fourth century the church established Advent and Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  It wasn’t long before carols were written to celebrate Jesus’ birth.   For 1,700 years Christians around the world have celebrated Jesus' birth at Christmas.

When it comes to Christmas, we naturally think of gifts.  What’s the worst Christmas gift you’ve ever gotten?  An article in Time magazine presented stories of people who had received questionable Christmas gifts.

One woman shared that for years, her mother-in-law had bought the other daughter-in-law an expensive makeup or perfume, and then she gave this daughter-in-law the free gift that came with it.   Another reader shared how she had received a waffle iron from her husband.  He said: “Now you can start making waffles for me.”  She asked so whom was this gift for anyway?

Focusing on the message of Christmas, the reason for the season, is always challenging.   There is the competition between preserving the historical and spiritual story of Christmas and the pressure of consumerism.   We hear on the one hand - focus on Jesus and the spiritual message of the Christmas season and on the other hand, buy, buy, buy the latest and greatest.  It is the tension between worshiping and honoring Jesus and consumerism.  We hear stories of shoppers who in the rush for a sale actually trample over other shoppers.  Is that a sign that things have gotten out of control?

As Jesus’ followers, we must stay focused on the core message, the central meaning of this season: the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, Emmanuel, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Word made flesh, that God became a human being in Jesus of Nazareth.

One of the traditional things we do at Christmas is to exchange gifts.  Is this appropriate?  Absolutely.  After-all, Jesus was God’s gift to the world.  And the Magi brought gifts to the Christ-child.  But we can also get overwhelmed with the expense and pressure of gift buying and giving.   Children can have unrealistic expectations about gifts.

Parents can feel tremendous guilt, competition and the burden of buying the newest and most popular gifts.  Today we are going to take a new look at an old idea, simple gifts.

There is an old Shaker song: It’s a Gift to be Simple.  Someone revised the words years ago.  “It's a gift to be simple; it's a gift to be kind. It's a gift to smile and to share a happy mind.  It's a gift from the Father when we go on our way, with a joyful song at the start of the day.  But the gift to be simple and the gift to be kind, are the gifts which only a very few will find. Yet these gifts from the Father can be found every day, if we look to him and his will we obey.  Love! Love! It's a gift to be kind. It's a gift when we smile, when we share a happy mind.  Love! Love! We go on our way, with a joyful song at the start of the day.  Love! Love! It's a gift to be kind. It's a gift when we smile, when we share a happy mind. Love! Love! We go on our way, with a joyful song at the close of the day.”

Simplicity.   What does this mean to you?   Simplicity, according to the Bible, is rooted in some basic convictions.  It’s believing that everything belongs to God, that everything you are and everything you have is a gift of God, being truly thankful for God’s grace, understanding that you are dependent upon God for each breath you take and each day you live, knowing that you are to take care for your possessions, but not to be possessed by them, not to become a slave to material things, and trusting that God desires for you to share your resources with others.

The biblical understanding of simplicity means that people are more important than things, that you measure your value, your self-worth on being a child of God, not by the material things you own.   It affirms that whether you live or die, you belong to God who loves you, who created you, who knows you, who forgave you on the cross and who will bring you to be with Him in the life to come.  It reminds us that we came into this world with nothing and that we will die with nothing.

Is it possible to simplify your Christmas?   Well, I don’t know, what do you think?  I think so. I hope so.  Our scripture passage gives us reason to pause.

In the letter to the church at Philippi the apostle Paul expresses his heart-felt thanks to the people of the church.  Philippi was not a wealthy church.  The gift would have been modest – a little money, personal letters, some food, medicine, some clothing.  Paul is deeply moved.  He writes: I have been paid in full; I have received more than enough, “I am fully satisfied now that I have received the gifts you sent.”  He describes the gifts as a “fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”  The church gave him gifts in gratitude for Paul's ministry.

What is God’s word today about simple gifts in this Advent-Christmas season?  I believe God is saying pay extra attention to people.  Spend time with them; take time to listen, to see, to feel this Christmas.

First, make a list of some people in your life.   You know the song: “He’s making a list, checking it twice.”  Making lists is traditional at Christmas!  Think about close people, your wife or husband, your children, your grandchildren, your parents, your grandparents, your aunts or uncles, your brothers and sisters, your friends, a neighbor, or a colleague at work.

But what about people you wouldn’t normally include: your dentist or doctor or accountant or lawyer, your dermatologist or acupuncturist, your barber or hair-stylist, a police officer or firefighter, someone in the military, a teacher, a favorite waiter or waitress, the people who pick up your trash, your gardener, your computer technician, a cashier at the grocery store, your auto mechanic or plumber or electrician, your mail carrier, the teller at your bank or babysitter.   Our lives unquestionably are far richer because of the support and services of these people.  God brings some truly remarkable people into our lives on a regular basis.   And we know we sometimes take these people for granted.

Second, give them a simple gift.   What is a simple gift?  I’m going to suggest some things, but I want you to use your imagination and decide for yourselves.   Make an effort to express your appreciation this Advent/Christmas season in simple ways.   You never know how meaningfully you can touch someone; you never know what joy you can bring to someone when you surprise them with a simple gift.

Like a handwritten note or email, telephone call, conveying a word of affirmation, appreciation, of encouragement or gratitude. “I want you to know I thank God for you.” “I want you to know how grateful I am for you.”   “I want to thank you for what you meant to me this year.”

Simple gifts, like taking time to listen carefully to someone whom you normally wouldn’t listen to.  There is the gift of hospitality, inviting someone to your home for a meal or out to lunch.  You can invite someone to come to our Christmas Eve services.  You might offer to drive a neighbor to church or to go shopping.  You might bring someone a cake or pie or plate of raw vegetables or fruit or hummus. You may offer to help someone complete a project or to help someone hang lights on their house.  You can visit a person during their recovery from surgery or make a long overdue apology to someone.  You might call someone you haven’t talked to for a while.   You can always ask someone for to forgive you.  You can strive to reconcile with someone whom you have been alienated from, spend time praying for someone and asking God to touch their lives or buy socks for homeless people through CCSA.

So how can we be the sort of giver that ennobles?  How can you and I be a gift to someone on Christmas?  There’s a question to ask yourself – “How can I be a Christmas gift to someone?”   Offer a simple prayer: “Oh God may I not let this Christmas be all about me.  May this Christmas be all about you and others. Christ, help me to see you, to hear you, to feel you this Christmas.  Dear Jesus, inspire and empower me to guide others to see you this season.

This sort of thoughtfulness, spiritual maturity, and love is only possible if we embrace Christ as the King, our King, whose throne was a manger.   That’s when we’ll have a Christmas where Christ is the center of the season.

Can we simplify Christmas just a little?  Can we give some simple gifts to others in the name of Jesus Christ?   I truly believe, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that we can.  Maybe, just maybe, we can try something a little different this Christmas.  Amen!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Your Prayer Has Been Heard (Luke 1:5-20) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Is Christmas about buying gifts?  Is Christmas about shopping?   Columnist Dave Barry writes:

“Your normal man, at this point in the Christmas season, has purchased zero gifts.  He didn’t even manage to get an acceptable gift for his wife last year.   He did give her something, but he could tell by her reaction that she had not been dreaming of a car emergency kit, even though it was the deluxe model with booster cables and an air compressor.  Clearly this gift violated an important rule, but the man had no idea what this rule was, and his wife was too upset to tell him.”

“A survey on men's attitudes about Christmas shopping may provide useful information for women.  Many men dread holiday shopping so much, that instead of going Christmas shopping, 89 percent would rather see their favorite sports team lose.”

And yet according to the Bible and our Christian faith, Christmas was originally not about our giving gifts to others.    We get so focused on giving to others at Christmas, on what to give our children or grandchildren, or friends or worthy organizations, that we forget the original intent of Christmas

The first Christmas was about getting ready, about preparing to receive, to receive the gift of the coming Messiah.  The focus on the first Christmas was this - God is a giver.  God gave to the world His Son.  God gave the gift of salvation through sending Jesus, born in Bethlehem, as the Savior of the world.  Christmas is about preparing our lives spiritually to receive, to celebrate, to honor God’s amazing and loving gift.

Christmas asks the question – what does it mean to receive the gift of Jesus as your personal savior and the savior of the world?  The heart of Christmas is about being beneficiaries, about fully embracing God’s astonishing gift, God’s promised Messiah, named Jesus, the greatest gift humankind has ever received.

Which leads us to our story about Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.  They were getting on in years.  They came from good families.  Zechariah held a respected position as a priest in Jerusalem.  They were righteous before God, they had a good reputation in the community, they had a good marriage.    They knew God had greatly blessed them.   But buried beneath it all was an unyielding desire – the desire for a child.  No, they were not unique in this desire, many people before and since, can identify with it.

One day Zechariah was chosen to enter the holy temple of the Lord and burn incense while a gathering of people prayed outside.  This was an esteemed honor.  As he was going about his priestly duties, suddenly the angel Gabriel appears to him.  Zechariah was afraid, which you would only expect if you were confronted by an angel.  Gabriel announces to Zechariah: “Your prayers have been heard.”  His wife Elizabeth would bear a son and they were to name him John. 

Gabriel exclaims: “You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth.” Zechariah responds, “How can this be? My wife and I are old. How can it be that my prayers are answered?” Rather than shouting: “Praise God, thank you Lord, my prayers have been answered, hallelujah,” Zechariah replies, “Really, I just can’t believe, I rather doubt it, my wife and I are too old.”

Zechariah makes two big mistakes: never doubt the word of an angel, and never comment on your wife’s age.   He is totally skeptical as we might be too.  Zechariah had reluctantly accepted the fact that their time to be parents had passed them by. He and his wife had come to accepted their fate.    Gabriel announcement sent a shock wave into their world.

Gabriel tells Zechariah that since he did not believe this good news, he would lose his voice and not be able to speak until their son John was born.   Now that was serious.  I mean how can a priest do priestly things without a voice; I can relate to that.   And anyway, shouldn’t a priest, a man of God, believe that God has the power to answer prayer?  I mean who wants to listen to a priest who has more doubt than faith, who questions whether God can truly answer prayer?

It was the custom for the priest after being in the holy of holies in the temple to go out and declare to the people the great blessing of Aaron. “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.  May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”   But not that day, there would be no Aaronic blessing, because Zechariah could not speak.

I don’t know about you but there is something about Christmas which takes one’s breath away, words escape you.  The God of the universe became one of us and one with us as a human being in Jesus of Nazareth full of grace and truth.  Yes, this certainly qualifies as an ineffable moment.

So Zechariah does not utter a single word for nine months.  But perhaps God’s removing Zechariah’s ability to speak wasn’t a curse, but ultimately a blessing.  For sometimes we can only truly appreciate a spiritual moment, when we are quiet, when we are listening and not so busy talking.   Sometimes only in a time of silence is it possible to reflect upon, to appreciate and behold a miracle of God.

Maybe God wanted Zechariah to ponder his encounter with Gabriel in depth?  Perhaps God wanted to teach Zechariah something: never give up on God, never question what is possible with God, never lose faith and hope in the power of prayer. Maybe God was testing this religious man.  What do you think?

Have you ever stayed up late at night and stared at Christmas lights?  Have you ever walked around your neighborhood in the quiet of night to look at the stars and lights and decorations around you?   Have you ever sat at a table for Christmas dinner, surrounded by people who are laughing and telling stories, and in a private moment, you realize that these people too are Christmas gifts?   Sometimes it takes silence to truly appreciate God’s miraculous gift at Christmas.   Yes, perhaps God’s removing Zechariah’s ability to speak wasn’t a curse after all.

I suspect Zechariah as a husband and priest, underneath it all, had lost his ability to hope, to hope in God.  A life without hope is a dreary life indeed.  And God wants us, God wants you and me, to be a people of hope, a people who share hope, who perceive God’s blessings, and who bless others, and encourage others to believe in God and to believe in prayer.  Thus, the question for this season is: What does your life speak to those around you?  Does it speak of disappointed expectations or does it speak of blessing and hope?

Don’t allow these coming weeks to be filled with just busyness and noisy activity and talking.  Find some quiet moments, spend some time in silence, receive the gift of Christ once again into your heart and see the miracle of what Christ is doing in your own life.  And may your life and the words you speak be of hope, faith, love, peace, encouragement and wonder.  The world needs believers, not only at Christmas, but throughout the entire year.

During your Advent and Christmas journey, may God bless you with moments of silence as well as with shouts of joy.  For this is a season to prepare for the promise of the Messiah.  Amen!

Friday, December 2, 2016

You Don’t Know When the Time Will Come (Mark 13:32-37) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Christians start your engines.  Perhaps that is a good slogan for today.  We have scarcely      recovered from our Thanksgiving meal, we are still catching our breath, we are just finishing putting things away, Black Friday is a frightening f because you put yourself in harm’s way fighting crowds and already it’s the First Sunday in Advent which leads us to Christmas.   But ready or not, Advent is upon us.

Advent is the time we prepare for the coming of the Lord Jesus.  It is a season of waiting, watching and expectation; a season where we look to the future.  Are you curious about the future?  I think human beings in general are interested in the future.  What is going to happen in the future?  What will the future hold?   What are the first 100 days going to be like with a new Commander and Chief?  We think about and sometimes worry about our own future, the future of our family, our children and grandchildren, our church, our nation and of our world.

Christ is coming!   A biblical word which captures the spirit of Advent is Maranatha!  It is an Aramaic word.  It means “Come Lord” or “Our Lord, Comes”.  It is both a prayer and an affirmation of faith which has emboldened Christians down through the ages.  Advent says the future belongs to God.  Wow you got to worship God and learned a little Aramaic too.

Do you think about Jesus coming?  Robert Lee imagines the different headlines we might see on the day of Christ’s return:  Time Magazine might read: “He’s the Man of the Millennium.”   The National Enquirer might say: “Christ Comes Back and He’s Seen Elvis.”  And the headline for Atheist Monthly would simply read: “Oops.”

Some people are inherently optimistic about the future?  They are filled with hope.  They see a light at the end of the tunnel.  They envision a better future for themselves and their children and the world.

Other people are filled with dread about the future, they are pessimistic and anxious.   They believe the problems in our world with the environment, terrorism, disease, and war will only increase and bring a future filled with darkness and disaster.

How do you see the future?  And yet, in spite of our questions, our uncertainty and our fears, Advent says - Don't lose heart, stay the course, hold on, you have a bright future, a hope-filled future because the future belongs to God and God’s plans for the future will be fulfilled.

Advent announces that Jesus is coming!  Do we know precisely when?  Despite some who claim they do know the day and the hour, those who make such predictions are at best misguided and at worst deceivers.  You must always be on the alert for false prophets. No, we don’t know.

Advent declares that Jesus is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.  Life has a purpose.  History has a direction.  The world is headed somewhere.  Everything in the world is temporary.  There is an end time for history.  The earth as we know it is coming to a close and a new earth will dawn.  We are not just accidents in an empty universe.  The universe sis not just a random occurrence.

The Stoics of Roman times believed human history was an eternal treadmill.  Every 3,000 years civilization would be destroyed by some catastrophe.  Then history would start over once again.  That cycle of world destruction and rebirth would repeat itself forever.  Advent says No!  God has a plan and pattern for all human life.  The culmination of God’s great plan will be the coming of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Steve Brown tells about a car he saw one day parked along the side of the road while he was driving home.  It was the ugliest car he had ever seen.  It had a large gash on its side, the windows were all smashed, the roof was dented in, one of the doors was held together with bailing wire, several body parts were missing, the rust had eaten away most of the paint and what little paint was left was of different colors.  But the most interesting thing about the car was the bumper sticker.  It said: “This is not an abandoned car; the owner will return.”   The message of Advent is that this is not an abandoned world and you are not an abandoned person.

We read in I Thessalonians: “Now concerning the times and seasons brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you.  For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark: “You will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”  “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.  It is like a man going on a journey when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Keep awake, watch, for you do not know when the master of the hour will come, in the evening, or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn.”

Who are those servants left in charge?  We are.  You and I are.  Christ has put us in charge.  We each have a work to do.   And while we work we are to be on watch, to keep awake.  The days are coming.  We are to await that day and that hour.

Finally, Advent says the days are coming when the Messiah will bring shalom throughout the land.   The 8th prophet Isaiah envisions a future time of peace throughout earth.  Here his prophecy: “God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  Isaiah says further: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox, the nursing child shall play over the hold of the asp.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

A Christian woman recalls her trip to Israel and a holy moment, when she experienced a foretaste of the peace Christ will one day establish on earth.  She writes:

“We walked through the dusty streets of Bethlehem town and soon came to the entrance to the Church of the Nativity. We stood in line for what seemed like hours, winding our way downward into a series of caves.

Once there, I was hushed by the holiness of it all. There were candles lit here, there, and everywhere. Hundreds of people were on their knees in prayer, scattered about on the cold, damp floor. We made our way to the traditional cave of the birth where we read Matthew's story once again. Soon we were singing. "O Holy Night," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "Silent Night."

Right there in a church that has been ravaged by war and terrorism and today is owned by four different religious groups, we prayed for peace.  As we left, I passed by all the pilgrims yet again. Some were from Germany, Poland, or Italy and others from England, Spain, or China. They, too, sang and prayed.  Anger and violence wrestled about in all our worlds, but in that moment we had all come together in Bethlehem to worship and celebrate the Prince of Peace who was working shalom into the folds of our lives, as he will, until the day he returns to work it into all things, once-for-all.

I too as have some of you experienced that moment of peace, serenity, in a cave under the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born.  Yes, we justifiably question whether peace in our world will ever become a reality.  While we await, the scriptures, and our Christian faith, remind us that we too can experience today a foretaste of Christ's coming peace.   The prophet Isaiah says: “God will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on him, because he trusts in God.”

Peace comes when we trust in God's control of events and circumstances, of both our yesterdays and our tomorrows.   Nothing is beyond the control and will of God.  Advent stirs our hearts.  It declares that the future belongs not to evil, not to sin, but to God.  Jesus is coming to establish an unimaginable world.  C.S. Lewis writes: “When the author appears on stage, you know the play is over.”

I close with these inspiring words from the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, see the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them as their God, they will be his peoples and God himself will be with them, he will wipe every tear from their eyes, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will cease, for these things have passed away.”   Amen