The Christmas Angel

There is a beautiful children’s picture book entitled, December by Eve Bunting and David Diaz. I have used it in conjunction with the Isaiah 64:1, “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down….” The synopsis is below. 


A young boy and his mother who are homeless are spending Christmas Eve in a their cardboard box shelter. They have made it as cozy as possible with the picture of an angel with a rose in her hair from an old calendar hanging on one wall. He decided she is named December because that is the word under the picture. They have a little scrap of an evergreen branch as a tree with a paper star and an old tin soldier as ornaments. There is also a paper plate with two Christmas cookies, one red and one green. The boy has recycled bottles and cans for weeks to earn money for the cookies. They go to sleep warm and snug under the great coat of the boy’s deceased father.

At midnight they are awakened by a knock on their cardboard door. An old woman, cold and frightened, is asking for help. They invite her in and warm her up. She is so grateful that she takes a faded fabric rose off her hat to add to the Christmas ornaments on the little tree. After a bit of wrestling with his conscience the boy offers her the red Christmas cookie because he thinks she is hungry. They cover her with the father’s coat and all three go back to sleep. Early Christmas morning just before dawn the boy awakens to discover the woman is gone. He is drawn outside of their box and there in the morning fog he sees his Christmas angel, December,….the one on the calendar sheet hanging in the box. She is singing softly and she smiles at him. As she fades into the fog he notices that the rose in her hair is just like the rose that is now hanging on the tree.

A year later the boy and his mom celebrate Christmas in their new warm apartment. The mom now has work and the boy is in school. They put out the angel picture and they have a bit bigger tree with the star and the soldier and the rose. There are two cookies under the tree. And even two small presents. They are blessed. Life is very good and the boy gives thanks as he remembers the angel named December.  

Grace and Peace
Steve

God Will Handle It

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
1 Thessalonians 5:15


Recently Shirley and I went to a local restaurant for lunch and had our usual waitress; Anna, usual food; soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, and a most unusual check out. The bank declined my debit card. The clerk even punched in the numbers and still it was declined. So in the spirit of the season we sit at a table and call the bank. They tell us that my card has been compromised by ITunes. Isn’t that just great??? I have downloading classical music for the Christmas season and some joker is stealing my debit card number and charging around $500.00 in three different places in Virginia. I just don’t think that is very much in keeping with the Christmas spirit. The Christmas Spirit is give not steal.

I tried to think of appropriate scripture for this devotion, one that would voice my inner feelings. All I could come up with immediately had to do with destroying my enemies… casting them down into a deep, dark pit. And, you know, for a while I was very well pleased with this scripture and attitude. I even started singing “You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch!” in that deep voice – with feeling.

Then I was reminded; “You are a preacher!” Oh yeah! Well, I guess that means that I need to, at least, try to handle this a little better. So, perhaps deal out only severe pain instead of the destruction and pit thing? Really what I want to do is to stand at the top of the pit and shine my flashlight down into the eyes… e-d-b-d-eyes… of those who are holding their ill-gotten gain… with my money.

I don’t understand why people do this. I don’t have the capacity to appropriately deal with this but I do know that I must forgive and let it go, and turn it all over to God. God will handle it in a way that brings about God’s solution and not mine.

Dear God, I thank you for reminding me of not seeking revenge but seeking the higher road of turning it all over to your loving care knowing that you will do what is best. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

 

 

Adopted By Christ

“In love he destined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will….”
Ephesians 1:5


John was born into a family of 12 children. They were very poor. He was the youngest. He never remembered his father eating a meal with the rest of the family. He had to work long hours to feed his family. One day his father ran off with another woman, leaving his mother to care for all 12 children. At age 6, his mother told him through tears that she was going to put him up for adoption along with 3 of his sisters. She told him she had no choice. If she didn’t take this step they would likely starve.

She placed an ad in a newspaper of a nearby town and within 3 days a couple responded. When the day finally came for John to leave, he said it was the worst day of his life. They were at the train station, ready to say their last good-byes. He said, “When the conductor reached down to take me from my mother’s arms I felt something die on the inside of me.

His new family was very loving and kind but it was just not the same. John lived with the constant fear that one day they would give him away too. He grew into adulthood and finally went out on his own. He spent year after year absorbed in his work, trying to bury the deep hurt in his soul.

One day something beautiful happened. In a moment of great discouragement, he visited a church, hoping he would hear a word that would boost his spirits. Little did he know that his life would be changed forever. The preacher talked about how God loves to adopt people into his forever family. At last, the ache in his heart was healed. Jesus told him He would never abandon him, never send him away. After years of turmoil and hate, John felt loved and accepted. He felt the Lord saying to him, “John, I know about that day at the train station. I know how you felt and I’ve been waiting all these years to adopt you into my family.”

There is never a single, horrible memory but what God plans to eclipse it with a better one. Like green grass sprouting to re-color a burned-over field, so God brings along beauty for ashes.

Dear God, adopt me and never let me go.  Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

 

Show and Tell

“Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.”
John 12:9


Dr. Fred Craddock, a renowned homiletics professor in seminary used to tell his students, “Preach Christ! Use words if you have to.” Dr. Craddock’s point, of course, was that people are much more impacted by what they see than by what they hear. Sermons in the flesh are more powerful and more enduring than moral proclamations and divine meditations alone.

At a certain point in his life, the only thing that rivaled the popularity of Jesus and his message in the Jerusalem vicinity was a living manifestation of Jesus’ power and a living illustration of Jesus’ message. According to John’s gospel, the power and the proclamation of Jesus were manifested and illustrated in the resurrection of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus.

When the crowds that gravitated toward Jesus got word that Jesus was dining at the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, they came to that house to investigate for themselves. They came to see Jesus, certainly, but they also came to see what Jesus had done in the resurrected life of Lazarus.

Every person who has experienced the life-giving power of Jesus is up for inspection. People still want to know, is it really possible to hear the voice of Christ and defy the conscriptions of imminent death? People still want to know, does the eternal life promised to us by Christ make any real difference in this life? People still want to know, does Christ really have the power to give you life in the face of those who are invested in your death? People still want to know, is there any hope beyond the grave?

People still come because they want to experience our worship, enjoy our music and listen to our great sermons and testimonies about the life-giving, death-defying, body-healing, soul-saving resurrecting power of God in Christ Jesus. But they also want to see the evidence of our wondrous proclamations manifested in our everyday lives. They really want to see living illustrations of those who were once dead but who now celebrate life and life more abundantly.

What will they see?  What can they touch?  What will we show them?

Loving Savior, you have made us to be living illustrations of your power over death. Now touch our lives so that we may show forth your greatness and your goodness with gratitude and grace, in and through Jesus.  Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

A Pile of Rocks

Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, so that all may know the power of the Lord.”
Joshua 4:20-24a


Have you ever just sat and looked at stones? Some of my favorite are the stones in Jonathan’s Creek in Maggie Valley – near Lake Junaluska. I think Ray Stevens would call them “flat, smooth, river rocks, fit for skipping.” They just seem like special rocks.

Go visit Stonehenge in the English county of Wiltshire and ask some of my kin folk, as people have for centuries, “What do these stones mean?” The only honest answer is “We don’t know” or “Go ask an archeologist.”  If there ever was a plan to pass on the meaning from generation to generation, it didn’t stick.

Go visit the Holy Land and you’ll find rocks everywhere. Big ones, little ones and stacks of them, just like the pile described in Joshua 4 near the Jordan River. As soon as the Israelites stepped in the river, the waters parted, Red/Reed Sea-style, and the whole nation crossed over. It was a moment to remember.

But Joshua was smart enough to know that even mighty miracles are easily forgotten unless we do something to remember them. The twelve stone pillar was meant to arouse the curiosity of younger generations who would see it and naturally ask, “What’s that all about?” We are instructed to answer: “It’s there to remind us God is real and powerful and faithful.”

A common fear for parents of confirmation students is that their child will ask a question for which they have no answer. What’s baptism all about?  What’s communion all about?  And what about miracles, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection?

The honest answer might be “I don’t really know” or “Go ask the pastor.” But if all we offered was the Joshua answer: “Those things remind us God is real and powerful and faithful,” it would be enough.

Today we don’t have a pile of twelve stones. We have a pile of stories, poems and letters known as the Bible to arouse our curiosity and help us remember God’s presence and faithfulness. It’s really the only thing worth remembering. I hope you don’t skip them.

Dear God, help us to remember that you never forget us. You never abandon us. Help us to pile up the stones, the altars along the way to remind us that you are always with us, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Pick Your Battles

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.
Luke 22:24


Most of the time most pastors get along well. Even if they come from different denominations, they still extend to each other a modicum of professional respect.

That was not the case about five years ago when pride came between two preachers. These pastors, whose congregations thought they were in competition, met on the street. One of them coldly said, “I heard you speak the other night and recognized that sermon. You preached it about 14 years ago.”

Somewhat put out by such a direct attack, the other shot back, “Thank you very much. I heard you speak just three weeks ago, and I can’t remember a single word you said!”

The conversation probably wasn’t much different as the disciples disputed about which of them was the greatest.

We expect little children to argue and brag. Children take great stock in telling why they’re the smartest, cutest, fastest and bestest. But Jesus’ disciples should have matured beyond such silliness.

How it must have hurt Jesus to hear them squabble.

His heartache stemmed from the fact that not only were His disciples fighting, but these were the men with whom He had worked the hardest. These were His trusted friends whom He had kept closest to Him, who had seen His miracles, and listened to His sermons on love. These were the ones who would be entrusted with the sharing of the Gospel.

Similarly, Jesus must be appalled by His present-day disciples who squander the church’s volunteers and resources on insignificant and inconsequential internal disputes. How sad our Redeemer must be when normally sensible and almost always rock-solid Christians jockey for recognition and demand acceptance of their own points of view.

Jesus knew back then, and He wishes His people to know now that the church and its leaders have bigger enemies to fight than each other.

Jesus died and rose so his people could witness to others on his behalf. Jesus died and rose so his people would come to him humbly and acknowledge, “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.”

Dear Lord, forgive me when my pride gets in the way of doing all I can for you and your work. Remind me that I have nothing to brag about. Who and what I am is because of your grace, mercy and compassion. Thank you for loving me enough to restore me to your family, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve