Reading: Luke 2:1-20
Reflection: Today’s reading is another one that is so well known that it is easy to miss the simplicity and power of the story. There are so many Christmas Card embellishments and festive additions that have been added to this story, that our common view of it is pretty radically different from what is actually in the Bible. For example, notice that there is no stable mentioned and that the word for “inn” is probably more likely to mean the guest room in the home of a relative than the motel-like establishment we imagine today!
But, when we wipe these embellishments away, what do we have left of the story? We have a God who chooses to incarnate God’s Self in a human being. We have a God who works through ordinary people in an ordinary town, going through the ordinary rituals of hospitality at a difficult time in their country. And we have the invitation to allow this God – and God’s purpose – to be the framework of our lives. It’s all a cause for incredible celebration – which is why it is good for us to party through this season as we do. But, it’s also a cause for us to stand in awe at the grace and love of this God, and of the Child who was God Incarnate.
What is your response to the Christmas story? In what ways can you allow moments of awe to break in through the celebrations this Christmas? How will the amazing reality of the incarnation stay with you and guide your life in the year to come?
Prayer: If I’m honest, God the truth of Christmas is far more than I can really understand. It makes no sense for God to become human, and for a baby to be God incarnate. It’s strange to think that you would enter the world quietly, almost undetected, without any real fanfare or massive display of power and glory. But, this is what you ask us to believe – this is who you ask us to believe you are! Please God, let the truth and the incredible power of your coming sink into my heart and life. Help me to know that when I woke up this morning, I awoke into a completely new world – a world in which God has walked among God’s creatures, and walks among us still. Amen.
Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7
Reflection: At the start of the Advent season the promise to David of an everlasting dynasty was
remembered. Now, as the season draws to a close, and we move, finally, to Christmas, the promise is repeated again – this time with a sign of fulfillment in the Child who will be born. Now, as we read this, we cannot help but think of the baby at the centre of the Christmas celebrations. Isaiah, of course, knew nothing of Jesus, but through the ages, whatever these words meant for the people of Isaiah’s time, followers of Christ have recognized Christ’s birth in Isaiah’s prophecy. It is not surprising that we believe that this prophecy was amazingly and universally fulfilled in Jesus.
What is amazing is that the prophecy speaks about a king ruling from David’s throne. David was a warrior king, conquering his enemies with force and ruling with the same grand displays and power-games that every human king has done. But, the way Jesus rules transforms the throne of a warrior king into a place of mercy and justice, peace and comfort. The names of this new ruler are not names that strike fear into the heart. They are names that welcome and inspire us, that reassure and encourage us. And the amazing thing about this new Reign is that nothing can ever destroy it. It can’t be conquered by armies or removed by a vote. Once it has taken root in a heart, its influence will always be felt, and its impact on the world will always continue.
In what ways has this new Ruler taken up residence on the throne of your heart? How do the names of Jesus listed in this prophecy challenge and inspire you? How can you live more intentionally as a citizen of this Reign this Christmas, and every day?
Prayer: It’s amazing God, how you can take the thrones of warrior kings and turn them into seats of gracious and just government. It’s wonderful how you redefine what Rulership looks like, and how you call yourself by names that invite us into your comfort, peace and love. As I celebrate the birth of Jesus – the Baby-God-Monarch – keep me always mindful of how it is Jesus who enables me to live as a citizen of your beautiful Reign. Amen.
Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Reflection: To a people who had been broken and conquered, these words of restoration must have sounded like a wonderful, but distant, dream. Two elements of this prophecy that stand out as I read these words are the promise that God will live with God’s people – a promise fulfilled in Jesus – and that God delights in people. The words are celebratory and passionate, and they indicate that God’s love is not some cold, vague, sense of wanting our good in the end. Rather, God’s love is vibrant, involved and radically powerful. When we hold this against the truth that every judgment that is mentioned in Scripture is brought on to people by themselves, that there were always lots of warnings before the fact, and that the judgments were pretty much always simply the consequences of their short-sighted actions, we can begin to let go of any image of God as an angry deity waiting to destroy us all when we mess up.
Jesus said that, if we want to know what God is like, we have only to look at Jesus. Jesus – in his message and mission, his character and behavior, shows us the truth about God and the picture is one of infinite, creative grace and love and welcome. In these last few days before Christmas, we have a wonderful opportunity to remember and celebrate this.
What is your most powerful picture of God? Does it match the God that Jesus reveals in the Gospels? How does your view of God impact your worship, your faith and your life? How does it change things to realize that God delights in and celebrates you? Spend today reminding yourself of this amazing truth!
Prayer: Forgive me, God when I hold on to ideas about you that are unworthy of you – when I think of you as an angry old man on a cloud waiting to punish me when I make a mistake. Please show me how to let Jesus define the way I see you, and please keep reminding me that you delight in me. Of course, this also means that you delight in others, too. Please keep reminding me of that and help me to see what it is in other people that brings you such joy. Amen.
Reading: Romans 10:5-13
Reflection: Sometimes it feels like God is hard to find, and that God’s presence is as distant as the stars.
Sometimes when we feel like this, we try to protect our relationship with God by reverting to law, by making decisions and drawing to determine who is “in” and who is “out” (Paul refers to this as saying “who will go up to heaven?” or “who will go down to the place of the dead?”). The problem with this reaction, though, is that the legalism and control can never give us the life and liberty of God’s Reign. Rather, we are called to faith – the kind of faith that chooses to believe that God’s presence, God’s word, is near to us even when we don’t feel it.
This faith is at the heart of the Advent journey. Advent leads us through stories of people who had every reason to believe they had been abandoned by God, but who continued to believe. The Old Testament Israelites, the people of Jesus’ day, John the Baptiser, Mary, Samuel, the New Testament Church – all of these people and groups that we have been reflecting on over the last few weeks had moments when God felt distant, but many of them trusted God anyway, and discovered that God is always available. This is why Paul can confidently assure his readers that anyone who calls on God’s name will be saved.
How can you make the choice for faith in those times when you’re not sure if God is still around? In what ways can you continually choose to “call on the name of the Lord?” and help others to do so? How can you resist the temptation to legalism and control and embrace the freedom of God’s Reign today?
Prayer: Forgive me, God, when I doubt your presence and your love. Forgive me when, in my doubts,
I start trying to work out things like who is going to heaven – who is “in” – and who isn’t, hoping that this will make me feel more secure. Teach me the lesson of simple faith, of always trusting your presence, even when I’m not aware of it. Teach me to call on you at all times, and to be for others the answer when they call. Amen.