The Best Kind of Love

Readings for the day (2nd Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 12, 2017):

Genesis 12:1-4a

Psalm 121

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

 John 3:1-17

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

If you were to go on a road trip, how would you do it?  Would you carefully plan out your route with a detailed itinerary?  Or would you just jump in the car and drive off somewhere with no real idea on how you would get to your destination?  If you’re anything like me, you would want to have your route carefully mapped out, knowing where you’re going, how many miles you will drive, and roughly how long it would take to get there.  With knowing our path, we have a sense of control over where we go and how long it will take us to get there.

In life it’s nice to have a sense of control over our lives.  Some things in life we do have control over: we get to choose what we do, where we eat, who we associate with.  We are free to choose our career path, our friends, our spouse, where we live.  By getting a choice, we have a sense that with us in control we can see what is coming and thereby have the ability to maneuver through the changes of life as they happen.

But in reality we don’t have control over everything do we.  We can’t change other people.  We can’t control the markets.  We can’t control the weather.  We can’t control our family challenges.  We certainly can’t control the political polarization.  We can’t even control our own finitude.  With all of these things in our lives that we can’t control, we begin to lose heart.  We feel powerless and hopeless.  Any crisis or conflict in our own lives veils who we are and veils our vision; how we see the world.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a powerful Jewish leader, comes to visit Jesus in the darkness of the night.  He can’t visit during the day when the sun is out because he might be noticed seeking advice from this carpenter from Galilee.  Nicodemus would be seen as weak, as powerless, rather than strong and knowledgeable.  And yet, he is curious enough, weighing the risk, he takes a chance, stepping out, making himself vulnerable in order to find out more about who this Jesus fellow is.  Jesus tells him that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  This confuses Nicodemus as he thinks that Jesus is talking about having a second earthly birth.  Nicodemus’ vision is veiled.  He can’t understand how one is born from above.  He keeps trying to following a path and a vision that he is familiar with and knows.  Except all he knows is simple human biology which tells us that we cannot have two earthly births.  The path that we know and are familiar with is comforting, giving us a sense of control.

Of course we like having a sense of control in our lives, but when our vision is veiled, making it challenging to see clearly – how much control do we really have?  When life is going well, going the way we would like it to go, the family is mostly happy and our stress level is low-ish, then we get the sense that we are the ones in control of our lives.  Which is a comforting feeling to know that we have control.  But when crisis hits and the family isn’t happy, our stress levels are out of control, and we conflict seems to be surrounding us, then our vision becomes veiled, not being able to see past the crisis.  We become unable to see the bigger picture.

Nicodemus thought that he had things figured out, but then he started listening to Jesus’ teachings and just got more and more confused.  His stress level was probably increasing as conflict continued to grow among the Pharisees.  He could no longer see past the conflict.  Today is no different, actually it might be worse.  People are so quick to jump to their own conclusions without fully understanding what is going on or what the big picture is.  But when a perceived crisis comes to mind, our whole vision becomes veiled and we can’t get past the crisis.  And when we can’t get past the crisis with our vision veiled, we are left feeling confused and helpless.

You know, maybe that is what drove Nicodemus to sneak out one night to find Jesus in the first place and ask his burning questions, because he felt helpless and confused.  Now when Nicodemus does confront Jesus in the darkness, He could have just blown Nicodemus off.  He could have just said, “No, I’m not talking to you.  I’m not acknowledging you.  You’re a Pharisee and you guys are causing lots of problems for me.  So just go away.”  Jesus could have also tried to negotiate with Nicodemus a little, saying, “So, you’ve got some questions do you.  Well let me see here, I would like for you get the rest of the Pharisees off my back.”  The problem with negotiating though is that you put power back into someone else’s hand.  “I’ll love you if…”  A conditional form of love that puts the person you’re going to love in control.

Instead, Jesus answers all of Nicodemus’ questions (maybe not the way he was hoping for, but they were answered).  And most importantly, Jesus offers to Nicodemus unconditional love.  Love that gives him no control and makes him completely powerless, that the only thing Nicodemus can do is to accept this love knowing full well that with God loving the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life, completely removes him from the equation.  Nicodemus wasn’t looking to be saved on that night; he just wanted some questions answered.

When you think about it, you never asked God to send his Son to die for you.  You never even asked Jesus if He was willing to hang on the cross for you.  He just went and died for you without you asking for it.  This puts God in control and makes you powerless.  He never asked your opinion on the matter.  And for those who like being in control of what’s going on and where you’re headed, this can be a terrifying thing because this means that we must completely put our trust in someone who just makes decisions without consulting us.

And this is exactly what true unconditional love looks like.  God loving you and the whole world so much that he willingly gave up his only Son, being lifted up on a cross, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish in an eternal death, but may have eternal life with God.  Indeed, he did not send his Son into the world to condemn us for sins, but in order that we might be saved through him.

Our freedom of choice in this world appears to be where our freedom lies, but in all actuality our true freedom lies in this unconditional love where without your consent, Jesus willingly died and rose for you, claimed you through the waters of baptism so that Jesus who is the light of the world could shine light on your path, removing the veil, allowing you to see clearly.

We don’t always know what lies ahead for us, but with Jesus in control we can trust that He can see where we are going, with the all-powerful by our side.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All Rights Reserved.

Hot or Lukewarm?

Readings for the day (Ash Wednesday – Wednesday, March 1, 2017:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Psalm 103:8-14

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

What makes waking up in the morning so great (request responses)?  Yes all of those are wonderful reasons for waking up in the morning, but what about the whole room being filled with the wonderful smell of coffee brewing?  And then to sit, holding that warm cup of coffee in your hand as you take those first couple sips of that delicious hot beverage.  For all of you coffee drinkers out there you know exactly what I’m talking about.  For those of you who don’t drink coffee, now you know what you are missing.

Drinking any hot beverage for that matter has a way of energizing us for the day.  The caffeine might play a part in that, but I think there’s something about sipping on a hot beverage in the morning to warm you up.  Kind of like having to warm your car up in the morning.  Things just run better after being warmed up.

After a while though, I get distracted by other things, but then I go grab my mug, which seems to have gotten a little lighter, I take a sip of the beverage…YUCK!  That delicious, savory beverage that I was enjoying is now disgusting.  It’s become lukewarm!  Coffee, tea, vegetables, pizza, bath water – none of these are enjoyable when they are lukewarm.  We desire them to be hot.  In fact that’s how they were meant to be enjoyed – hot.

Now our beverages and food are not the only things that get lukewarm.  Over time we can become lukewarm in our relationships with our spouse, with our children, with our friends.  Oh it starts out as the usual excuse, we’re really busy, and it’s so hard to find time to get together.  And then that makes way for fewer conversations.  We become relaxed, comfortable with how things are, but unfortunately when we become complacent and content, we have become lukewarm.  Not hot, energized, and excited, but relaxed and content which this leads to our relationships breaking down.  And what is lukewarm eventually becomes cold.

We become lukewarm in our daily activities too.  When we just don’t care as much about our work, not putting forth a good effort.  Or in school when we don’t put in as much effort into our studies as we could.  And even in our extra-curricular activities and hobbies.  When we don’t put in a very good effort, that’s a good sign that we have become lukewarm.

This same thing is true in our spiritual lives.  When we are energized, when we are excited about our walk with God, we are on fire.  We’re praying, taking time for devotions, putting our trust in God to guide and lead through the Holy Spirit, we joyfully come worshiping our God who formed us in His image, we cheerfully give of our time, our talents, and our treasures to God all for the purpose of growing His kingdom.  But when we sit ideal for a while, like the coffee cup on my desk that I forgot about, we become lukewarm.  And that’s when prayer and devotions get skipped, we start putting our trust in ourselves and our checking account, attending worship becomes a chore, and giving becomes another bill to pay.  Just like with our relationships with each other and our daily activities, what is lukewarm eventually becomes cold, including our relationship with God.

But you know what’s wonderful about lukewarm coffee?  You can add more hot coffee to the cup to warm it back up, and it doesn’t take a lot of hot coffee to do that.  The same is true in our spiritual lives, in our relationships, and in our daily lives.  Today begins the season of Lent, 40 days where we focus on who we are as sinners and God’s call for us to repent, setting aside those things that hinder us, making us lukewarm, and turning back to God, warming ourselves back up.  So in the next 40 days, what is something that you would like to work on, maybe it is a relationship, maybe it is spending more time in prayer or studying your Bible, maybe it is living more by faith, trusting that God will be with you, maybe it is opening yourself up more to helping grow God’s kingdom through your own time, talents and treasures.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He tells His disciples that to avoid being lukewarm, good spiritual practices include prayer, fasting, and giving.  Let’s spend the next 40 days warming ourselves up.  Because as Paul tells the Corinthians we do not want to accept the grace of God in vain.  Meaning we should not become relaxed and comfortable all because we know that God has already saved us through the waters of baptism.  Just because you have been claimed by God, welcomed into His family, and given the promise of eternal life and forgiveness of all your sins, does not mean that God enjoys you as lukewarm coffee.  He desires that you take this life that He has graciously given to you and share this Good News of God’s saving grace with others.  And we do so, as Paul did, by being patient, kind, offering genuine love, being truthful in what we say, and above all, trusting in the power of God.

You all are Christ’s ambassadors, whether you’re 12 or 50 or 90.  And as Christ’s ambassador you are a representative of not only your respective congregation, but your two sister congregations as well.  You represent Circle of Faith Parish.  You represent the Body of Christ.  You represent Christ himself.  You are His ambassador, called to bring you’re A-game, not your lukewarm coffee.

Paul says that now is the acceptable time…now is the day of salvation.  There is no greater time than these 40 days of Lent to turn away from our lukewarm tendencies.  For there will come a day when God will no longer desire confession or repentance on account of our sins.  For at that acceptable time, when the words that we heard earlier will come true (Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return), then we will enjoy the abundant blessings from God beyond any can ever imagine.  That is when you, the ambassador, will be called home, the work will be completed and there will be rest for His faithful servants.

Until that day, let’s warm our coffees up, and bring our A-game.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

The Inevitable Change

Readings for the day (Transfiguration of Our Lord – Sunday, February 26, 2017):

Exodus 24:12-18

Psalm 2

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 17:1-9

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

In the upstairs hallway of our home, we have numerous pictures of the past.  I find myself from time to time looking and studying these pictures as I walk by.  Some of the photos are occasionally replaced with more recent ones.  Others however are never replaced.  There’s a picture there that was taken during a recent vacation trip to the Headwaters of the Mississippi River when we were vacationing with some friends of ours.  The nice thing about pictures is that they become documentation of how people and places change over time.  The picture from the Headwaters is of both our families together, four adults and four children.  This picture will soon be out of date because there will actually be six children.  Now next to this picture in our hallway is a picture of my friend and I standing in the Fargodome after our college graduation.  This is where is all began.  What started out as two friends, turned into ten.

Comparing these two photos leaves me amazed at just how much can change in just eight years.  Change can be viewed positively or negatively.  When Jesus ascends the mountain, taking with Him Peter, James, and John, things change.  Jesus changes, or rather – transfigured; which is what transfiguration means – to change.  His face shines like the sun and His clothes become dazzling white.  But that’s not the only thing that is changing.  Here the focus for Jesus changes from healings and miracles to Jerusalem and specifically the cross.

Now some change is good, right?  When a new baby is born into the family, that’s good.  The family is growing by one, maybe even two.  When a child or grandchild gets married, that’s also a good thing, usually (as long as you like the future spouse).  60 degree weather, friends and family moving closer, and income raises are all good changes that are welcomed.  And then there are those other changes that we would rather have stay the same.  Children growing up too fast and getting ever closer to driving and High School graduation, small town businesses closing, losing a spouse, losing a child; these are changes that aren’t welcomed and we grieve over what will become of the future with these changes.

Often we know that a change is necessary, it is just hard to accept that truth.  We desperately hold on to the past because we aren’t ready for what lies ahead.  Up on the mountain, Peter wants to build three dwellings (or tents).  One for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.  He is so happy with the way things are that he doesn’t want it to go away.  A couple summers ago I was fishing up in northern Minnesota.  It was so peaceful, nearly perfect weather, excellent fishing.  I didn’t want to leave that place.  For me, leaving meant change.  For Peter, if there were tents for these three, maybe they wouldn’t have to leave.  And I think this is what makes change the hardest, when you know what needs to be done, you know that things need to change, but you’re afraid that if you allow a change to occur you will lose the past, and it will simply become a memory of what was.  When a child graduates from High School, there is no reminder to clean your room, but rather just a memory of what was.  When we lose our spouse, there is no more conversing or spending time together, but rather just a memory of what was.  This is why we race so quickly to capture a photo of something; pictures help us retain those memories of what was.  Pictures don’t help make change easier, but does help keep the memories from changing.

With our church, I think we all know that change is necessary.  We are like Peter, wanting things to stay the same while knowing that change is inevitable.  Things cannot stay the same.  We will have to come down the mountain.  We will have to get off the lake.  The 60 degree weather, as we learned, will not last forever.  The weather will change.  Milestone events will come and go.

But God’s fame, God’s glory, what He is known for, will not change.  Maybe this is where we and Peter get lost.  The Transfiguration moment on the mountain top appears to be perfect, with Jesus all dazzling white and shining as bright as the sun.  But don’t be fooled.  This isn’t what God is known for.  His glory is not found on the mountain, but on the cross.  In the brokenness of a dehumanizing act of what humans do to fellow humans, the cross (a tree with some nails) is exactly where God’s glory, God’s fame is found.  We expect God to be found where there is perfection, but Jesus flips our worldly perspective so that where we find God is not in the perfect, but in the broken, where we least expect it.

So maybe the reason why change is so hard is because the past, with all of our pictures, we have created an image that our past is perfect, and with the future so uncertain that’s where the brokenness must lie.  But you know, how many of your photo albums or pictures that you hang on the walls show the brokenness of your past?  You see, the only thing that has been perfect in our past or ever will be perfect in our future is the saving work that Christ did on the cross for us by turning the brokenness into perfection.

I do not know what lies ahead for the future of our church, but I do know that like the pictures on my hallway wall, some will stay displayed for a very long time while others will change.  Not everything will be able to stay the same, it will be necessary for some things to change.  But no matter how hard the change will be, it will be done all for God’s glory, making Christ’s death and resurrection known to all and for all.  Amen.

 

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

Hope for Tomorrow

Readings for the day (2nd Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, January 15, 2017):

Isaiah 49:1-7

Psalm 40:1-11

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

John 1:29-42

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Around 600 years before Jesus was born, an outside group, a group of foreigners, came in, captured the Israelites, chained them up, led them off to a far off country, and completely ransacked Jerusalem.  Homes were destroyed.  The city walls were damaged.  The temple that King Solomon built (essentially their church) was completely destroyed.  The Israelites were hauled off into exile, away from their homes, away from all of their things, possibly even away from their family and friends.  And on top of that, their place of worship was desecrated and destroyed.  Can they worship God in a foreign land?  Can they worship God in another place other than their building?  This is an important question for the Israelites because the temple was where God told them He would be; they could find Him there.  And now without the temple, can they still worship God?  If so, where?

That question is maybe a little easier for us to think about with many churches in the area.  And yet, when we spend much of our lives going to Sunday School and Luther League in this place or all of the Christmas Eve and Holy Week services over the years, it still can be hard to think of our future without this church, without this building in our lives.  Could we even possibly join another church if our church was no longer here?

While in exile, the Israelites were not only dealing with the loss of their church building, but they lost everything.  And regardless of what the loss is, when we lose something, a void is created in our lives that needs to be filled, but it can be rather challenging to accomplish this and actually fill the void, especially when the void is big.

For the Israelites the future is so uncertain.  When will they be able to return home?  Will they be in exile for as long as their ancestors were in Egypt?  The future always carries with it a certain level of fear and anxiety because we don’t know what that future holds.  Now we aren’t exiled to a foreign land.  We still have our homes and our families, our jobs and our possessions.  But we still have no clue what the growing season will look like this year, nor do we know what the crop prices will do.  We finally know what is happening to the health insurance premiums this year, and it’s anything but good news.  And as of Friday, we have a new president.  For some, this news brings hope for a better future.  For others, this news brings great worry and anxiety since no one truly knows exactly what our new president will do in the next 4 years.  It could be good.  It could be bad.  It’ll probably be a little bit of both.

Now the job of a prophet is to first tell God’s people what they have done wrong that has upset God, but also to tell them what God is going to do for them in the future – giving them some hope.

In our story with the Israelites being hauled off to Babylon, they have no clue how long they are going to be there, if they will even be able to return home.  And now in comes the prophet Isaiah who has predicted many things.  Isaiah prophesied that Babylon (the place where the Israelites were exiled to) would be overthrown, allowing for them to return home someday.  And he also prophecies that a Messiah (God’s anointed One) would soon arrive.

Isaiah knows what he is supposed to do.  He knows that he is to deliver God’s Word to His people.  God says, “You are my servant…in whom I will be glorified.”  But Isaiah responds, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity…”  Isaiah feels like he isn’t getting anywhere with God’s people.  He says that he has labored in vain, spending all of his energy for nothing.  Have you ever felt that way?  Have you ever felt as though you have tried really hard at something all for your efforts to seem useless and all for nothing?  It’s like when you are trying so hard to teach your child or a student something and they just aren’t getting it.  Many times it even appears like they aren’t even listening.  But then there’s that moment.  That moment when they surprise you and you realize that all of that hard work has finally paid off.

Sometimes it can feel as though we have labored in vain; that all of our efforts, all of our work and dedication to our church, in our homes, in our community, on our farms and in our businesses, that all of our efforts have been for nothing.  But have we tried everything we could?  Is it time to give up and throw in the towel?  Have we labored for nothing?

Or do we do as the disciples did and follow after Jesus whatever the cost?  Now following Jesus takes work.  Having a relationship with God takes work.  In fact, any relationship for that matter takes work.  If both parties aren’t good about maintaining the communication lines, then the relationship weakens over time.  The same is true with our church, if we just passively enjoy the reality that our church is still around but don’t lift a figure to help it, then it is all for nothing.  It takes work.  Just as Nathanael asks Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  I ask you, “Can anything good come out of Waverly?”

Isaiah’s prophecies were not only promises from God, but they were intended to give the Israelites some hope.  Hope that someday things would get better.  Hope that someday they would be able to return home.  Hope that someday they would be free again to worship their God in their own building again.

The future of our world certainly is uncertain.  We don’t know what the future holds for us.  We don’t know what health care or crop prices are going to look like in the future.  We don’t know what the weather will do or what our new president will do.  For all of this and more, we put our faith and trust in God that He would continue to provide for us for as long as He feels that there is work for us to do for the sake of God’s kingdom.

So regardless of what happens in the future – whether it rains or not, whether President Trump’s leadership is good or not, whether we live or whether we die, know this: know that you belong to God.  Your labor for the Lord is never in vain.  He has chosen you.  He has called you by name.  You are His.  And nothing, absolutely nothing in this world can ever take that away from you.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

A Precious Gift

Readings for the day (Baptism of Our Lord – Sunday, January 8, 2017):

Isaiah 42:1-9

Psalm 29

Acts 10:34-43

Matthew 3:13-17

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Did you have a good Christmas?  Maybe that seems a little weird to you that I’m asking you about Christmas still; that was two weeks ago.  Yet, the season of Christmas, the shortest of seasons in the church year (only 12 days long), just ended on Thursday (three days ago).  Did you get everything that you wanted or needed?

I find it interesting how the understanding of gift giving and more so gift receiving changes as we age.  When one is very young, under the age of 2, the shining reflection of the wrapping paper is all that is needed to bring a child joy.  When they get a little older, the wrapping paper is no longer interesting, but something that needs to be ripped away as quickly as possible to reveal the best thing in the world…the cardboard box.  Then the next year, the box is still a little interesting, but now we’ve realized that what is inside the box is pretty cool – it doesn’t even matter what is inside the box, it could even be clothes.  And then we finally get into the phase where the wrapping is ripped open within seconds, the box is torn apart just as quickly, the clothes are thrown aside but the toy that is buried underneath all of those clothes – that’s what we’ve been waiting for, that’s the prize buried at the bottom of the cereal box.  What a gift!

I would guess that from time to time, you have thought about the many blessings or gifts that you have received from God.  Maybe especially over Christmas and the holiday celebrations where we spend time with family and friends, enjoying each other’s company.  All of this has come from God.  Our food, our shelter, our families, our possessions, our careers, our very lives – have all come from God; gifts from God.  And during holiday celebrations we are reminded of how much God has blessed us with.

And now, God blessing His children is nothing new.  God has been caring for and blessing, giving to His children since the day He created Adam and Eve.  When a famine came across the land, God worked through Joseph to bring his family to Egypt to find food.  When the Egyptians turned on Joseph’s family and turned them into slaves, God worked through Moses and Aaron to lead His children back to the Promised Land.  When God’s children were scared, He provided them with a leader, a ruler to help protect and guide them.  When their judge failed to do God’s Will, God sent messengers, prophets to redirect His children.

There are so many examples in the Bible that show just how faithful and caring our God really is.  There are many gifts that God has given to us, but the text that we have today shows us the greatest gift that God has given us.  At the baptism of Jesus, God does not give us another Moses or a prophet.  He doesn’t give us an angel or lavished possessions.  No, when Jesus comes out of the water, after being baptized by John in the River Jordan, the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove onto Jesus, and from heaven, a voice can be heard saying, “This is my beloved Son.”  My only son, whom I love, who is my very heart.  This is my only heir to the throne, the one who will inherit all of my possessions and power.  But I give Him to you.  Because I love you.  Of all the gifts and blessings that God gives to us, Jesus is the greatest, most prized possession that God has, and He willingly gives Him to us.

And how do you treat this gift from God?  Do you rip open the wrapping with great joy and excitement?  Or do you complain because the gift is not what you wanted or expected?  Being baptized and welcomed into God’s family does not mean that we have a golden ticket to heaven.  Your baptism certificate is not a get out of jail free card.  Jesus never said that our walk with Him would be easy.  Being a Christian, a follower of God’s precious gift, is not always easy.  Waking up on a Sunday morning to worship and give thanks to God for this gift.  Remembering to thank God for all of the blessings that He has given us throughout the week.  Caring for the sick, the poor, the hurting, the grieving, the oppressed, the hungry, AND spread the Good News about this precious gift that God has given the world.  No wonder many people just give up.

If you approach your faith in Christ as a laundry list of things to do, then it does seem difficult to almost impossible.  There are nearly 800 million people in the world who do not have enough food to live healthy lives.  Hospitals are always occupied.  About 3 billion people live in poverty throughout the world.  Over 150,000 people die each day – meaning there are over 150,000 families grieving every single day.  These numbers are staggering; especially knowing that as followers of Jesus, we are called to care for all of these types of people.  Except, your faith in Jesus is not dependent on this long to do list.  Rather, your faith in Jesus comes from believing and trusting in God above all else.  When you trust in God to save you from your looming eternal death, when you trust in God to forgive you your sins, when you trust in God to be with you wherever you go in the future – that’s when you willingly visit the sick, that’s when you eagerly care for the poor and those in poverty, that’s when you freely comfort those who are grieving.

This is the joy of the Gospel.  The joy and excitement that we have in this precious gift from God, moves us to do the things that we have been called to do.  So helping serve Communion, teaching Sunday School, answering the call to serve on council or a committee – when this faith is viewed as a burden, then all we can see is a religious practice that is full of things to do and obligations to be fulfilled.  However, if we see this gift from God like a child who joyfully rips open the wrapping and is filled with pure excitement of what is inside, then being a Christian isn’t all that hard at all and it actually becomes quite rewarding.

“This is my beloved Son.”  God’s only son, whom He loves, who is His very heart.  But because He loves you, God gave Him up to you and for you.  Of all the gifts and blessings that God gives to us, Jesus is the greatest, most prized possession that God has, and He willingly has given Him to us.  Certainly a gift to be excited about.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

“For unto you…” a Reason to Celebrate

Readings for the day (Christmas Eve – Saturday, December 24, 2016):

Isaiah 9:6-7

Micah 5:2

Luke 2:1-20

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

The Christmas story according to the Apostle Luke, is the most well-known story of the Bible besides the 23rd Psalm and John 3:16.  The most detailed account telling of Jesus’ birth – complete with Mary and Joseph, the mandatory census, the little bustling city of Bethlehem, the inn with no-vacancy, the manger, the animals, the angels, and the shepherds.  Add in some Christmas carols like Away in Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, and Joy to the World, and you have all that you need for a feel-good Christmas story.

And this telling of Jesus’ birth should make us feel good, it should make us happy and joyous.  Christmas is a time of celebration.  But for what?  So that we can go back to our everyday lives on Tuesday as though nothing has changed?  So that we can resume our normal lives until we do it all over again next year?  Does Christmas ever feel more like an interruption than a celebration?

All too often we try to get the Christ child to fit into our image.  When things are going well, our lack of thanksgiving to God tells Him, “I got this God, I’m good.”  When we are happy, when we are content, when things in our lives are peaceful, when we make it through a family function without anyone fighting or arguing with each other – then we figure that we have this under control.  We can do this whole life thing.  We don’t need any help.

But you don’t need to look far to realize that not everyone is happy, not everyone is content, our lives are not always peaceful, and sometimes attending family functions creates anxiety rather than joy.  What then?  What then do we do?  And where do we turn when things don’t go the way we want them to go; when life gets hard, when hard decisions must be made, when a marriage fails, when fertility issues arise.  What then?  Where do we turn for help?  Often, the very first place people turn in 2016 is Google.  Google got the answer, it has an answer for everything.  If all else fails, then pray and seek God’s help.  But when things are good, are you still talking to God?  We’ve become fair-weather fans for God haven’t we?  Taking life as it comes, trying to keep our head above water, seeking God’s help only when our own attempts fail.  What if God treated us the same way we treated Him?

Which brings me back to my original question.  Christmas is a time of celebration, but for what?  So that we can go back to our everyday lives on Tuesday as though nothing has changed?  We can go back to work and school will resume in a week, the decorations will come done, the Christmas music will be silent and everyone will go back to living their lives for themselves.

Except on that first Christmas night, there were some that didn’t even get a break, some that didn’t even get an interruption from the daily grind.  Emperor Augustus decreed that ALL the world should be registered.  I guess “all the world” means everyone except the shepherds.  As everyone was traveling to their hometowns to be registered, the shepherds were still working in their fields.  And the angel that comes to tell the world about the birth of Jesus, doesn’t go to a large football stadium, or to the house of people with successful careers; the angel doesn’t tell the rich or those who feel that they have this whole life thing under control.  No, the angel, in the cold, darkness of the night, pays a visit to a pasture full of sheep and some humble shepherds who continue to do the work that God called them to do – not even being included in the census.  In the stillness of the night, an angel tells the shepherds, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The simple words, “To you!”  Not to the emperor, president or governor.  Not to the celebrity you adore, or to your neighbor down the road.  Not to the star football player, or actress.  Not to the CEOs or top executives.  These words, “To you,” mean exactly that.  The angel announces to the shepherds that this Savior that is born, has been born FOR YOU!  You, lowly shepherd who the world doesn’t even want to have you included in their census.  You, humble shepherd who is still working when everyone else has gone home.  You, the teacher, farmer, nurse, cashier, student, carpenter.  The angel announces to you that today in the city of David, a Savior has been born.  Jesus was born to you and for YOU specifically.

This God that we believe in decided to take on flesh and become human like us.  He didn’t do this for the angels, for they don’t need Him.  And the devil certainly doesn’t want Him.  But we, humble servants of God NEED Him, and this is precisely the reason why God came down from His throne, taking on human flesh, being wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.  All for you!  None of this benefits God at all, but this Christmas gift for us is a very beneficial and necessary gift.  A gift that can’t be earned, can’t be traded, can’t be purchased – only received.  Our God, your God, willingly came down from His throne of power and glory, to lay in a cattle trough, all for your sake.  He did this so that YOU may be saved.  YOU are redeemed, YOU are forgiven, YOU are given eternal life, and most importantly, God took on flesh in the form of an infant named Jesus so that YOU may be welcomed into His holy family.

This is why we celebrate.  This is why we interrupt our everyday lives to celebrate a child’s birth that happened 2,000 years ago.  Because without Jesus, all we have is a life that gets more and more complicated with semi-trucks driving into market places, school shootings, terror threats, growing fear and anxiety around the world and in our homes.  Jesus gives us hope.  A hope that produces joy.  A hope that we can rely on.  A hope that someday there will be peace on earth; peace among families, peace among neighbors, peace among strangers.  God taking on human flesh and living among us is the good news of great joy that the angel announced to the shepherds in the cold, darkness of the night: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

Patiently Waiting

Readings for the day (3rd Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 11, 2016):

Isaiah 35:1-10

Psalm 146:5-10

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

How patient are you?  I find that I’m really patient at times and at other times, well impatience gets the best of me.  We live in an ever changing world that is full of instant gratification, which has led to a loss of patience.  With smartphones, Google, DVRs, Netflix, 24/7 news channels, social media, email – as soon as something happens, word about it is instantly spread throughout the world.  We live in an information age where if you don’t know the answer to something, you can get it in a matter of seconds.  It actually takes longer to pull your phone out of your pocket or purse than it does to actually get the answer.

Instant gratification.  We’ve been trained to think we need everything instantly.  And what if something doesn’t happen instantly for us?  We don’t have time for it, and people wonder why even bother, it’s just a waste of time.  In 2012, a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts found exactly that.  In studying internet users, researchers found that a quarter of people would abandon an online video if it takes more than five seconds to load, and half of online users jump ship after ten seconds.  I remember when we first got internet with dial-up access and it literally took minutes to load a single webpage and watching a 2 minute video wasn’t even an option because loading the video would take too long – we weren’t allowed to tie up the phone line for that long.  Now videos on the internet are practically instant and webpages take milliseconds to load.

My youngest son is quite spoiled, imagine that.  When he is watching a show on TV, he gets very frustrated and upset when commercials come on.  All he wants to watch is his show, not the commercials.  Well who does, really?  But with a DVR and Netflix, we never have to watch commercials if we don’t want to.  So when we turn a show on for him and there is a commercial break, he instantly wants us to fast forward through the commercials.  Instant gratification.  We think we want it.  We think we need it.  And we get so impatient if it isn’t instant.

Now even though we live in a world that longs for instant gratification, we do a lot of waiting, don’t we?  We wait for the doctor.  We wait for kids and grandkids to get done with practice.  We wait for the phone to ring telling of the birth of a new member of the family.  We do a lot of waiting around, don’t we?

In our fast paced world today, we become impatient.  Like all of those people who are in such a hurry to get through the gate at the airport, just so that they can stand in line waiting to board the plane even though their ticket stub says seat 25A.  No one else will be sitting in that seat.  Everyone is in such a hurry these days, we have become impatient when things don’t happen as fast as we’d like them to be.

The Israelites have been waiting a long time for the Messiah to come.  So John, while sitting in prison, has his disciples go to Jesus (his cousin) and ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  Tell us plainly, are you the one we’ve been waiting for?  Should we waste our time following you?  Or should we wait for someone else?

How long should someone wait?  I remember in my first semester in college, a classmate told me the waiting tier that he followed in waiting for a teacher who was running late.  I don’t know if this actually was or is a thing, but I found it interesting.  He told me that if the teacher has a doctorate, we should wait around 15 minutes after class was supposed to start.  If the teacher has a master’s degree, then we only need to wait 10 minutes.  And if the teacher is a teaching assistant in graduate school, then we only needed to wait 5 minutes before leaving.  John is wondering if Jesus really is the Messiah.  How much longer does he have to wait for the Messiah to come?

We Christians are wondering the same thing.  How much longer do we have to wait for the Messiah to return?  Our world is full of instant meals, instant certifications, instant results, instant coffee, and instant credit approval. In a world that can’t wait for anything, where is there room for waiting, for being patient?  When we have to wait for something too long, many just give up.  The faster paced our world gets, the harder it gets for people to wait for something.  How much longer do we wait for this Messiah to return?  Maybe we should just give up – many already have.  Waiting for Jesus to return is hard, especially when 50% of people can’t even wait longer than 10 seconds for an internet video to load.

It really is hard to wait, especially when everything around us is moving faster and faster.  But there is something that we lose if we fall into the trap of always needing to be instantly gratified.  “Waiting for something creates a sense of anticipation and excitement.”[1]  Without having to wait, there is no reason to anticipate anything, for everything is instant.  And without the buildup of anticipation, there can be no excitement.

There is great joy in finally getting to do something or have something that you have been waiting for.  Something so small as having to watch 2 minutes of commercials before seeing what is going to happen next, can generate excitement in us, filling us with anticipation of what is to come.  Likewise, we made reservations back in February to camp in the Black Hills this past July.  If I left in February right after deciding where we were going, I wouldn’t have been nearly as excited and the anticipation of going wouldn’t have been very strong.

The same is true in this Advent season, as we continue to wait for the Messiah to come.  The writer of James reminds us to “be patient…until the coming of the Lord.  The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also must be patient.”[2]  Waiting doesn’t come easy, especially when the wait is long.  But you can either give up or make the most of your time while we wait.  Scripture tells us over and over again that Jesus not only is the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us, but that He will also return again someday.  Unfortunately many in our community and throughout our country have given up on waiting for Jesus.  You can choose to do the same and give up too, or you can continue to patiently wait for Jesus to return when again we will see the blind receiving their sight, the deaf will hear, the sick will be healed, and the dead will be raised.[3]

Waiting with patience does not come easy.  Sometimes it is easy, other times it is almost too hard to continue.  The Lord frees you from the prison on account of your sin.  The Lord opens your eyes to see Him clearly.  The Lord lifts up those who are bowed to Him in worship.  The Lord loves you because as a child of God you are righteous and whenever Jesus does come back again he will reign forever and ever.  Praise the Lord![4]  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] https://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/magazine/finding-patience

[2] James 5:7, NRSV

[3] Matthew 11:5, NRSV

[4] Psalm 146:7-8, 10, NRSV