Jesus Is Returning…Today by Jeremy Myers

Today’s post in our series Jesus is Coming What Do We Expect  is from author and blogger  Jeremy Myers. It was first posted on his blog Till He Comes as Jesus Is returning Today. This is the last post in the series. I hope that you have enjoyed our journey through Advent. God bless and have a wonderful Christmas celebration.

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Jesus is returning

Jesus is returning

No, I’m not pulling a “Harold Camping.” Though I do believe that Jesus will return to earth literally and physically at some time in the future, I am NOT saying that today is the day.

But I am saying that Jesus is returning today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And every day from now until He actually returns.

Confused yet? I am saying that Jesus returns daily until He actually returns.

The Daily Return of Jesus?

I think that as Christians we have often taught and thought about what Scripture says concerning the future return of Jesus Christ, while ignoring and neglecting what Scripture says concerning the present and daily return of Jesus Christ. If you didn’t know that such an idea is taught in Scripture, then you have proved my point. Most people don’t know it, which is why most people don’t live for it.

Yet the idea of the daily return of Jesus Christ is quite prevalent in Scripture. Jesus talked about it in Acts 1 before He ascended into heaven. Paul talks about in several of His letters as does Peter, James, and John.

Loving and serving others like JesusDuring His three years of earthly ministry, Jesus served others by healing the sick, providing for the poor, loving the outcast, teaching the masses, feeding the hungry, delivering the captives, eating with sinners, partying with prostitutes, and in general, showing people what it looks like for God to be ruling and reigning on earth.

And then, after Jesus died and rose again from the dead, He basically told His followers:

You are my witnesses, my ambassadors to the world. The things you have heard my say? You now say similar things to the world. The things you have seen me do? You now do similar things, or even greater things. The people you have seen me hang out with? You now hang out with them.

As you say these things, and do these things, and hang out with these people, know that I am there with you, in you and through you, saying these things and doing these things and loving these people all over again.

If I stay, I am only one person. But if I go, I can send my Spirit into each one of you, so that I can multiply myself in each one of you, and in you, be the voice of God, the touch of God, and the love of God to all people.

Many people today are hoping for change. Hoping for corruption to end. Hoping for greed to cease. Hoping for equality, mercy, freedom, and justice. And a large segment of people who hope for these things believe that such things will not happen until Jesus Christ returns.

Such a view is right, but it is also wrong.

It is true that such things will not be universally practiced upon the earth until Jesus Christ physically returns to rule and reign over the entire earth. But this does not mean that we, as representatives of Jesus on earth, cannot begin to practice equality, mercy, freedom, and justice right now.

We must not wait for governments to enact the change, or presidents and congressman to make laws about it, or bank presidents and company CEOs to suddenly change course. If we wait for that, we will truly be waiting until return of Christ. No, we must get out there and put into practice NOW the things we long for, wait for, look for, and hope for.

We must be Jesus to the world.

You and I are Jesus to the World

The return of Jesus is in our service to others.We are Jesus Christ to the world, the Body of Christ that is physically present on earth, being the hands and feet and voice of Jesus to a world that without light and without hope.

So this Christmas season, as we remember the first coming of Jesus Christ, and as we look forward to His Second Coming, also remember to look for ways on how Jesus Christ can return today, in and through you, to someone who needs His touch and His voice in their lives today.

Until the day Jesus returns, He returns today in you.

A Liturgy for Christmas by John Van de Laar

aboriginal_christmas

aboriginal_christmas

This beautiful Christmas liturgy comes from John Van de Laar. It can be downloaded from his website Sacredise.

A Liturgy for Advent and Christmas

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light – a light that will shine on 

all who live in the land where death casts its shadow…For a child is born to us, a 

son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his 

royal titles: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of 

Peace. (Isaiah 9:2 & 6)

 

God of Surprising Generosity and Unexpected Grace,

We have come to witness a miracle;

to prepare our hearts for a new invasion of Your Light;

We have come once again

to open our souls and our lives

to the divine birth.

And in this sacred moment we ask for Your gentle Presence

to captivate and challenge us.

For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

 

We Express Our Praise and Confession

We celebrate You and praise You,

God of new beginnings and surprising opportunities

Because You never cease to make Yourself available to us.

We appreciate You and thank You,

God of unquenchable life and irrepressible grace

Because You continue to offer us the resources of Your Spirit.

We love You and embrace You,

God of unfailing compassion and constant companionship

Because You walk beside us and transform us into agents of love.

 

Forgive us, O Lord,

When we seek to keep You to ourselves  and shut others from Your influence

Forgive us, O Christ,

When we wallow in our own weakness and take advantage of the weakness of others.

Forgive us, O Spirit,

When we deny Your friendship and withhold Your compassion from others.

 

Silent Confession

 

Heal us, restore and empower us, O God, we pray

For the sake of Your kingdom which has broken into our world.

Amen.

 

The Lord’s Prayer may be said

 

We thank and praise You, O God

for You are not distant and uninvolved in our lives and our world

But, You have come to us, humbly and gently, challengingly and irresistibly.

And whoever receives You, whoever believes in You

becomes a child of God, born of the Spirit.

 

Silent Reflection

 

So, we remember Jesus’ birth and life,

His suffering and victory.

On the night before His crucifixion,

Jesus shared His last meal with His friends;

He took the loaf of bread and blessed it,

then breaking it, He offered it to them saying:

This is my body broken for you. Eat this in memory of me.

After the meal, He took the cup of wine and blessed it,

then He offered it to them saying:

This is my blood shed for you. Drink this in memory of me.

So, we eat and we drink and we remember.

With hope and joy in the new life  which comes in God’s kingdom. Amen.

 

God of Grace,

Come to us again in this meal,

and as we share this bread and wine,

may we share in Christ’s body and blood;

May we offer ourselves to you again,

and may we become one with Christ

and with each other – a single, unified body.

Amen.

 

Communion is received

 

We thank You, Lord God,

For breaking into our world, our lives and our experience.

We thank You, O Christ,

For this meal of remembering,  and the stories of love and grace that it tells.

We thank You, O Spirit,

For Your Presence and Your challenge for us to become agents of God’s compassion.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen

We Offer our Gifts and Ourselves to God

 

In this moment of worship we embrace Your presence again, O God,

And we offer You our love.

In this moment of prayer

We proclaim again Your purpose for the world, O Saviour

And we offer You our resources.

In this moment of giving

We hear Your call again, O Lord

And we offer You ourselves.

Use us – all that we have and all that we are

to touch the world with the Christmas message:

God is love. God is with us. God will never leave us.

 

So, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ

The Love of God  and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

Be with us all now and forever. Amen.

The Night Before by Joel Boehner

The Visitation

The Visitation by He Qi

Today’s contribution comes from Joel Boehner.  Joel and his wife, Anne, are currently waiting in eager anticipation to adopt their foster daughter. He composed this poem on the occasion of her first birthday last February. They live in South Bend, Indiana, and worship at Keller Park Missionary Church.

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Night Before

Last night a snow fell
that softened sharp edges,
filled in holes, and brought
a few tall things lower.

Yet, some today are frozen,
some drifted into ditches.
I remember where I was
the day you were born.

When I shoveled the walk,
I saw your face through the
window, through two panes:
already but not yet.

Christmas Traditions – Drawing from Around the World

Establishing Christmas traditions

Establishing Christmas traditions

Christmas is almost here, and this morning I went out to do the final big food shopping expedition before the weekend. This year our main celebration will be Christmas Eve. There will be seven of us from five different countries and who knows how many religious traditons. So how do we celebrate?

Tom and I always have roast lamb (done Greek style with rosemary and garlic) with roasted vegetables for Christmas, not because either Tom or I grew up with it but because when we married we wanted to establish our own celebration. We both love lamb but don’t like to cook it except for a large group and on special occasions. So that will still be the centre of our celebrations.

This year I also want to honour the cultures of all those who will join us. I have spent the last few days on the web looking for traditions that relate the cultures that will gather round the table – Bukino Fasa, Ghana, Turkey, Indonesia, Australia and the U.S. and I thought that you might appreciate some of what I have discovered.

There are a number of websites including this one with traditions from around the world. but there are several other sites I found specific to the regions our guests will come from. From the Jakata Globe:

Indonesia has its own special traditions and foods to celebrate. The Ambonese will dig in to a variety of pork dishes. Pork in soy sauce, pork rica rica (spicy pork) and other pork specialties are long-time favorites. The meal will be capped off with desserts including the Dutch klappertaart, or coconut tart.

On the other hand, the Minahasa people of North Sulawesi and the Batak people in North Sumatra opt instead for rintek wuuk, or soft fur, which usually uses dog meat, but can also be made using beef. The choice of dog is based on philosophy as well as tradition, as dogs are traditionally believed to be the soul’s guardians. However, Muslim guests are not neglected, as grilled fish is usually served too.

Christmas in Indonesia wouldn’t be complete without a local take on gingerbread and other cakes, such as is in Kampung Sawah, Bekasi. Here, the treat of choice is dodol, a sticky sweet cake based on glutinous rice. While these traditional culinary traditions are less marked in the melting pot that is Jakarta, in their home regions they are savored as an indispensable part of Christmas. Read the entire article

This article on African Christmas Family traditions shares some interesting thoughts about African tradition:

Different countries in Africa celebrate Christmas in different ways. Some Christmas traditions ‘’imported’’ from Europe may be combined with the African pagan religious elements. For example, the Mmo African dance (masquearade or spirit representing the spirit of ancestors) is part of Christmas celebrations although it’s not actually a christian ritual. Ghana is the second biggest cocoa producer in the world and December is the month of the cocoa harvest (cocoa beans are the basis for chocolate). At Christmas time, everybody comes back to their villages as the local kings celebrate their achievements with masquerades. Churches and homes are decorated in the first week of Advent, church service is held on the Christmas morning, and children put up a nativity play or another scene from the life of Jesus Christ.

The article goes on to remind us that many Africans do not celebrate with abundance that we do at this season. I found this idea particularly touching

Very touching, in most parts of Africa, people collect birthday presents for Jesus Christ (after all, it is His birthday) and take them to the church service. They don’t buy them, they don’t visit shops, but they collect branches, stones, leafs or stuff like that to bring their presents to the born Jesus Christ. The most important part of their church service is the love offering as gift in honor of Jesus. Everyone enthusiastically goes forward to lay down their gift near the Communion table.  Read the entire article

Another article shared many interesting traditions from West Africa including this tradition from Burkino Fasa where one of our guests comes from.

In many Burkina Faso villages, children are at the centre of one of the world’s newest Christmas traditions. With a mixture of clay, straws and water, kids build architectonic masterpieces outside their compounds, illustrating the biblical theme of the crib. The nativity scenes are highlights in village decoration and stand until the rains slowly wash them away, close to Easter. read the entire article

For Turkish traditions most of us are familiar with the story of St Nicholas of Myra but as Turkey is primarily a Muslim country I found it challenging to find what one could consider truly Turkish Christmas traditions. The celebration tends to be more around New Year as this article explains.

And for a truly international Christmas see how many languages you can learn to say Merry Christmas in. This is the longest list I found though this youtube video is an impressive list too.

 

 

 

 

The True Light Is Coming Into the World – by David Perry

The True Light - photo by David Perry

The True Light - photo by David Perry

This morning’s post is a second contribution from David Perry. The powerful images that he incorporates into this reflection spoke deeply to me as I read through it this morning. It was first posted on his blog as World, Life-space and Enlightenment. Dave is a Methodist Minister in Yorkshire England. He enjoys fell walking, rambling, running, reading, art, photography, model railways, red wine and watching movies on DVD. Dave is married to Sue, who is Deputy Head of Dietetics for the Hull and E. Yorkshire NHS Hospitals Trust. They have two daughters, Bekki (online merchandising designer) and Judy (final year Communication and Media student).

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To Christian eyes the work of Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, provides a wonderful insight into the sheer expectant joy which Advent promises. The shapes of being he crafts deliberately speak into the body and soul of humanity.  This intention is apparent as we look at and through the mesh ‘portraits’ of the two girls Nuria and Irma who live near his home, or in the close-up photographs of one ‘person-space’ in the dual figure work ‘Spiegel’, which is formed from the letters of eight different alphabets.
These remarkable artworks display the contours of our being and becoming; they invite us to see the meanings which define us and which shape our day to day experience of being alive. The interior space of our personhood is revealed and becomes accessible. Light, space and meaning show us who we are, and in the act of understanding we connect with our deepest longings and our darkest fears.

And as we do this in Advent, God’s word in Christ becomes the open life-space of love which enlightens our being, just as the warmly vibrant colours of sunset seem to bring Plensa’s rooftop children into a cherishing focus of pure wonderment. Born from stardust, the light enlightens the truth that our transient lives are suffused by and eternally held within the love-light of God’s presence, the one who is, as we see here, closer to us than our own breathing. The true light gifts this intimate life-giving truth that the love which is at the heart of the universe invites us to inhabit the life-space of grace shaped by love’s meaning.

Word became flesh

Word became flesh - by David Perry

And the joy of Advent arises from God’s enlightening word which became flesh in Christ Jesus, the one who beckons us to enter within the freeing Godspace of humanity which his life defines. Plensa’s ‘Spiegel’ speaks to me of how the word embodied in Jesus uniquely reveals to us the image of an authentically God-shaped life. The gospel alphabet of forgiveness and compassion graces us with the promise that everyone can enter into this precious experience of Christ-likeness and make it their own. Jesus was born into our humanity; Advent promises us that we will be reborn into his divinity, and there become really and truly human in nothing less than the image of God.

As night took hold Spiegel was illuminated from within and began to draw a steady stream of fascinated visitors. Some stood outside and beyond and gazed. Others were more adventurous and entered within the enlightened life-shapes. With the eyes of faith this was such a beautiful sight to behold. All the expectation of Advent is held for me in this one image. Standing within the tangible promise of the word’s beautifully enfolding truth and love, our intangible yearnings are illuminated and transformed by a gift-space we neither expect or deserve.

Living within the Light

Living within the Light - David Perry

A Christmas Prayer for 2011

Nativity Kenyan

Nativity Kenyan

Alleluia, the waiting is over, Jesus has come,

The promised One of Christmas in now present in our midst.

May we let the chaos settle and turn from our distractions,

May we notice the places that shimmer with his presence. 

 

Alleluia, love comes down at Christmas,

Beloved son of God, Saviour of the world we welcome your coming.

A child born as one of us to make all things new, 

A Saviour birthed to bring righteousness and justice for all.

 

Watch for the signs and listen for the messengers,

Stand on tiptoe, shout for joy and trumpet the good news,

God’s miracle has come down from heaven, 

Alleluia the Christ child has come. 

 

May this child of Christmas come to us and give us hope,

May he grow in us and show us life, may he speak to us and teach us love,

Alleluia something new is emerging something new is being birthed, 

Jesus has come and we open our hearts to be his home.

 

 

The Wait is Over – Advent Reflection by Dave Timmer

nativity - Lu Lan China

nativity - Lu Lan China

This morning’s post comes from Dave Timmer who works with A Rocha here in the Pacific NW . He also manages Five Loaves Farm in Lynden WA

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We’re bombarded with tradition at this time of the year.  As I get older, I think back on the advent traditions of my church.  There was a time that I didn’t think my church really dealt with advent.  That mostly came out of familiarity – traditions often become so second nature that we don’t even realize they are traditions.  It also came out of spiritual immaturity.  Christmas was about presents under the tree and the church rituals were just a sideshow.  Furthermore, and this still happens, my postmodern mind tends to get frustrated by the tradition battles that take place every year.  The fights over which decorations are appropriate in the sanctuary, or the ridiculous “War on Christmas” that a certain cable news station likes to invent.  Now, I see greed creep into my five year-old’s mind as he looks through a Christmas Lego magazine.  This is frustrating.  So, rather than enjoy this time of year, my jaded mind would rather just skip it.

Because of this, I need to remind myself that there are some advent traditions that are good to remember.

Every year, four Sundays before Christmas, the music changed in church.   The kids jockeyed for position to be Mary or Joseph in the upcoming play, not just a stoic shepherd or, even worse, a sheep.  And each week, a church family was responsible for lighting one more candle in the Advent wreath.  Of course, adding a candle each week dramatically increased the odds of lighter malfunctions.

This is probably my biggest advent memory – big brother (who is just old enough to be responsible with fire) is desperately clicking the unresponsive lighter and with an increasing amount of panic, he gives it a bit of a shake before finally making eye contact with dad.  Dad is nervously watching, mulling over his options of how to help.  Then just as dad is about to move, the lighter miraculously ignites and a soft chuckle rises from the congregation.  Big brother redeems himself by getting all the candles lit without also igniting his sleeve.  Dad smiles…disaster averted.

This year, though, I’ve been more aware of an advent emphasis on “waiting”.  It is an attempt to empathize with the young couple at the center of the Christmas story.  This couple wonders what awaits them in Bethlehem – with a new baby set to arrive soon, very soon.  No hospital arrangements are ready for them.  They don’t even have an open couch arranged.  Furthermore, this baby isn’t even Joseph’s.

Today, I’m wondering if this emphasis on waiting is appropriate.  There was a time for waiting, yes.  The Biblical story, brilliantly, plays this out.  As far back as the Genesis story, a promise is given.   A promise of redemption, a promise to make things right again.  The curse will be knocked back.  That is the central theme – and the story is amazing.  No matter how bad things get, God is not about to abandon this promise.  Noah builds a big boat.  Abraham has a son.  David becomes king.  It’s going to happen.

But God’s people rebel and Babylon creeps nearer.  The situation is as bad as it can get.  The prophets describe the scene.  Their sieged capitol city is in ruins.  People are so hungry.  There are stories circulating of mothers eating their own starved children.  The king, cowardly, fled the city.  But he was quickly captured, his sons were murdered, his eyes were cut out, his hands were bound and he was dragged into exile.  The temple is a smoldering pile of rocks.  God is gone and his people are scattered.  They are forced to leave their homes and their farms.  The symbol of God’s promise – the “promised” land – is no longer theirs.  The prophets long for restoration.

Throughout this longing, though, there weaves a beautiful thread of hope.  There are promises of peace and justice (often quite violent justice…but justice).  There are promises of deliverance and re-membering the scattered people.  There is the promise of a Messiah and rest.  There is hope, even, for the land.  The “promised” land experiences a Sabbath.

After these promises, however, there is silence…for a few centuries.  This is the time to wait.

Finally, the silence breaks.  Remember those promises.  There is now a new conqueror with a Roman name.  Remember that royal line.  The people have come back to that same land.  Remember that the land rested.  There is a new temple and new traditions.  Remember the pictures of justice that those prophets painted.  The new conqueror wants to keep track of all those people with all those traditions.  Remember how God uses nations to write his story.  And a poor, pregnant, unmarried couple travels across the country to have a baby in a barn.  Remember the Messiah that they wrote about.

The waiting is over.  This is what they’ve been waiting for.  The rest is history, right?  We’ve even made this moment our fulcrum of time.  Everything has changed.

Jesus’ kingdom has been established.  In it, the hard work of redemption is occurring.  This isn’t happening in some far-off place or some future kingdom.   God’s redemptive work is happening today.  His story continues.

So what are we waiting for?

The Christmas story has happened – remember it, yes.  Empathize with that young desperate couple – definitely.  But the time for waiting is over.

It’s time to join in.

Thinking About Christmas – A Christmas Liturgy by Jenny Flannagan

nativity - Andi Harisman Indonesia

nativity - Andi Harisman Indonesia

It is still Advent but most of us are well into thoughts of Christmas so this week I plan to post on Advent in the mornings and Christmas in the afternoon.  This afternoon’s post is a beautiful liturgy by Jenny Flannagan.  She shared it on her blog as That Christmas Storythis morning (with a downloadable version) before heading off to stay with her husband’s family in Ireland.

The last time they did that she came back wondering where on earth Jesus had been in any of the celebrations…which inspired her to write this liturgy for them to share in each year, with whoever they were with at Christmas.

What I love is the way that she breaks it down into responsive readings for different times of the Christmas celebration starting with Christmas Eve and ending the evening of Christmas Day.

Christmas Liturgy

i) Last thing on Christmas Eve: The anticipation.  By candlelight.

Reader 1: We read the angel’s words to Mary:

“Greetings, you who are highly favoured.  The Lord is with you.

Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end.

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Reader 2

On the eve of this glorious celebration, we pause together.  

We steady our busy minds.

We still and quiet our souls within us.

We wait.

(pause)

Reader 3:

We are silenced by the angel’s words, and can only listen with holy awe and strange wonder. 

We wait with her for the fulfilment of your extraordinary promises.

We carry inside us the promise of your presence.

We wait through the dark night for the promise of dawn.

(pause)

Reader 4:

This Christmas eve, we are incredulous again that the God of the universe should make himself so small and so vulnerable, and be born into our world.

We wait with expectation for the new ways in which you will break into the darkness, into the humdrum of our lives.

We are humbled again by your desire to be born in us.

May you be born is us again this Christmas.  

(pause)

All: We wait for your light to dawn again in our world.

ii) First thing on Christmas morning: Celebration

Reader 1: 

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

Reader 2: We join with the angels, whose joy could no longer be contained in heaven, and say:

All: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men and women on whom his favor rests

Reader 3: May our joy overflow like theirs today, and may it send us out to others.

Reader 4: We remember that the angels were sent to the unlikely – to a teenage girl, to a carpenter, to a group of shepherds.  Give us eyes to see the unlikely around us today, and may our joy overflow out to include them.

Reader 1: We remember today the people who are easily forgotten.  Those in our community who are alone.  Those who have no means of celebrating.  Those suffering physically, emotionally or mentally.  Those who are grieving. Those who are cold and hungry.  May they hear good news today.

Reader 2: May we know again today that Jesus’ birth is good news that changes everything.

All: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men and women on whom his favor rests

iii) said at the table before lunch: Journey’s end and beginning

Reader 1: Today is a day that symbolises old journeys ending and new journeys beginning.  For Mary it was end of her pregnancy, and for both her and Joseph, the end of the long and slow journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  For the Wise Men it was an even longer journey, across many lands, following a star.  For the shepherds it was perhaps just a journey across the fields and the town.  The baby they found marked the end of their journeys, but it also marked the start of a new and a wonderful journey.

Reader 2: As we stop to share this meal together, we think of those who are journeying today – fleeing war and famine and other injustices.  We think of those who have no time today to stop and to celebrate.

(pause)

Reader 1: We thank you Father for our different journeys which have brought us here today, and the promise that the baby born today will change everything.  Thank you Father that you are Immanuel, God with us, and we do not journey from here alone.

Amen

iv) tea time: the recognition

Reader 1: In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God:

God, you can now release your servant;

release me in peace as you promised.

With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;

it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:

A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,

and of glory for your people Israel.

Reader 2: God give us the faith and the patience of Simeon, who waited his whole life in prayerful expectancy that you would keep your word.

(pause)

Reader 3: God, give us the imagination of Simeon, who could recognise in a newborn baby the hope of the whole world.

(pause)

Reader 4: God, give us the humility of Simeon who lived to seek and to find Jesus

(pause)

Reader 1: May we, too, live to see you today Jesus, and may we recognise you even in the most unexpected places.

v) last thing: the darkness; by candle light

Reader 1: 

A voice is heard in Ramah,

weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children

and refusing to be comforted,

because they are no more.

Reader 2: At the close of this Christmas Day we remember the grief that accompanied that first Christmas.  How the birth of Jesus’ caused such fear in Herod’s heart that he commanded the slaughter of all baby boys under the age of two.  These words of Jeremiah’s prophecy were fulfilled as mothers across the region wept for their loss.

Reader 3: We remember that this Christmas will have only brought more grief and suffering to many around the world.  We know that the darkness remains.

Reader 4: We weep with those who weep tonight.  We mourn the injustices of our world.  We mourn the violence, the oppression, the abuse.  We grieve the inequality that means one nation will starve and another will throw excess away.  We grieve selfishness and greed. We grieve premature death.

Reader 1: In faith we cling to the words of John, who described that first Christmas:

“What came into existence was Life,

and the Life was Light to live by.

The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;

the darkness couldn’t put it out.”

ALL: “The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;

the darkness couldn’t put it out.”

 

 

Have We Lost Jesus at Christmas? by James Prescott.

Christmas is coming but have we lost Jesus?

Christmas is coming but have we lost Jesus?

The season of Christmas is fast approaching and the frenzy of activity leading up to our Christmas celebrations is growing but have we lost Jesus in the midst of this frenzy? This morning’s post in the series Jesus Is Coming What Do We expect?  comes from James Presscott. He has been blogging about Advent and other topics on his blog JamesPrescott.co.uk.  He is also a regular guest blogger on issues of discipleship in the digital realm at digi-disciple, run by the Big Bible Project, and is currently working on a book.

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Expectations. We all have them, whether we know it or not. This is the time of year where the consumer culture we live in drives them up more than any other time – what gifts we’d like to receive, expectations of seeing relatives or eating certain types of food.

Often the last thing people expect at Christmas is Jesus.

Consumerism has taken over the festive season to such an extent that it’s easy for the very reason we celebrate to get lost in all the mayhem – in many ways that simply a highlighting of what happens the other 364 days of the year. But as Christians we should never allow Jesus to get lost.

Should it really have come to that?

Have we played a part in allowing Jesus to get lost in Christmas?

Well as Christians we’re called to stand for Jesus on this earth, to be His representatives here. To stand up for the issues He cares about, to show why His way is the best way to live through our own example.

As I reflected on this issue of what we expect from Jesus this Christmas, the one thing that I simply couldn’t escape from was the idea that it’s not about what we expect from Jesus or our expectations of Him – it’s more what He expects from us.

You see I think what we often do with our expectations of Jesus is that we put our own idea of who Jesus is in the place of Jesus, and place there what we think we should expect from Jesus, what matters to us, our own ideas of what He would care about.

Often what we don’t do is take time to ask Jesus what we should expect from Him. Nor, more crucially, what He expects from us.

One habit I don’t practice enough is simply sitting, listening to God, being silent and allowing Him to speak, letting Him set the agenda. I think it’s something we’re all prone to, especially in a consumer, merit-based society which rewards achievement and success, and encourages us to like to be right, indeed to get our value from being right, being the cleverest or smartest – or in Christian terms, the most insightful, the most in touch with God, the one more right about what Jesus would do/say/think.

We live also in a culture of selfish entitlement. It’s all about us and what we deserve, what we should own or what we have the right to.

Rarely is there space to stop and listen – to think about the other, the lesser. To think about what we can give rather than what we receive.

There has been an amazing TV advert in the UK this advent, for John Lewis, one of the major department stores in the UK.

All through the advert we’re led to believe a little child is waiting expectantly, impatient for Christmas to see what gift he will receive, what he will get for Christmas. We see him waiting, looking at clocks, struggling to sleep, eating his dinner down quickly and getting to bed early, impatient for Christmas morning.

But on Christmas morning something unexpected happens. He gets up with a flash and the first thing he does isn’t run to open his stocking or presents under the tree. No.

Instead he grabs a poorly wrapped present from his cupboard and rushes to his parents room, waking them up, so that he can give them his gift.

It’s incredibly powerful and very moving – and totally counter-cultural.

Why? Well simply because all that frustration wasn’t about what he was going to receive.

It was about the gift he was waiting to give.

I have to say, when I watched that, and every time since, it has humbled me. Chokes me up a bit, I must confess. Because watching it I was reminded of how selfish I am, how I – and probably many of us – have lost the joy of simply giving a gift, and how often we instinctively think of what we are going to receive, what we are entitled to.

We always put ourselves first and the other second, so when we see an advert where it doesn’t happen, it takes us aback, it shocks us.

It can be the same with Jesus. If He doesn’t deliver what we expect Him to, what we’ve decided He should give us or do for us, then we are disappointed or annoyed with Him – because He hasn’t met our standard of what we think we should expect.

But to me this is totally counter to the way of Jesus.

If we are truly followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t be worried about how God is going to bless us, we should be instinctively, like that little boy in the advert, thinking of how we can be a blessing to others this Christmas.

How we can be a living embodiment of Christ to others.

How we can show people through our lifestyle, behaviour, choices and attitudes that the way of Jesus is the best way to live. Pondering not what Jesus can give us, but how we can share Him – His love, His grace, His mercy – with those around us.

When we think of expectations of Jesus, we need to be turning that around, and asking ourselves what He expects of us this Christmas.

Who is He calling us to be?

What is He calling us to do?

How can we draw attention away from ourselves and point it towards Him this Christmas?

How can we show and give others the real gift of Christmas – Christ Himself?

So instead of pondering what you expect of Jesus this Christmas, how about instead turning it around and asking what He expects of you.

How about we simply remember God’s gift of Christ which was given at Christmas, and seek simply to share that gift with others?

Let us find our joy and expectations met not in the receiving but the giving of a gift.

I think if we all did that, we might find that all our expectations are met.

 

Virgin Mary &The Bible’s Answer to Human Trafficking by Rev. Rajkumar Boaz Johnson

Madonna with flowers - Joysmith

Madonna with flowers

I have been strongly moved by a series on The Bible’s Answer to Human Trafficking that has been published over the last few weeks in Christians for Biblical Equality’s weekly ezine ARISE. The articles are written by Rev. Rajkumar Boaz Johnson (PhD, Trinity International University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) a professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at North Park University in Chicago, IL.   This excerpt is from the third and final article of the series on human trafficking. Click for Part One and Part Two.

We tend to think of Mary’s pregnancy as a joyful time of celebration. Today’s article shared about human trafficking in the times that Mary grew up in and helps us to understand some of the challenges she would have faced even before Christ was conceived :

Mary, also grew up among girls who were regularly abused and trafficked by the Sadducees and the Roman soldiers. This was the reason that the most common name given to girls was Miriam, meaning “bitter,” since the life of the girl was assumed to be full of bitterness due to sexual abuse and human trafficking. Yet, miraculously, one girl was preserved, a virgin, to bear the Messiah of the world! She was not a virgin because she was the only one who was pure. She was a virgin because of a miraculous preservation of one girl. Mary becomes, in many senses, a symbol of hope for all girls throughout history, all over the world who are trafficked and abused by fallen humanity. This is indeed a thick answer to the problem of human trafficking.

The Messiah born by Mary elevated the status of so many women that he encountered. He knew what his own mother had gone through. She was ostracized by the so-called high class people, for carrying and bearing a child out of wedlock. He himself was called a mamzer—a term reserved for the children born by women who were sexually abused by Roman soldiers. During his public ministry, Jesus, knowing the horrible life faced by women around him, always reached out to them and restored their dignity. A good example is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Jesus knew that Samaritan women were abused on a far more regular basis than low class Jewish women. They were the lowest of the low people group in the society around Jesus. They were constantly and systematically abused, just because they were Samaritans. During his conversation with her, at a poignant moment, Jesus asks her to “Go call your man.” She shrugs her shoulders and says, “I have no man.” Jesus says to her, “I know what you have gone through. I know that you really have had no man. Each of the other five have sexually abused you and battered you. The person who has you now is not really your man” (John 4:17-18, paraphrased). To this woman who had suffered so much because of systemic evil against women, Jesus offered the water of life—the water which alone could heal her deepest wounds. The rest of the narrative is a powerful example of how Jesus heals and elevates the status of a trafficked woman. She goes back to her town, and the whole village listens to her words. This woman, who was trafficking material and was sexually abused by men around her, is suddenly transformed into an eshet chayil, a strong woman. Read the entire article