Luke 1:46-54

 

           
 
            Faith that is faith in itself is not faith at all.  But a deep and personal faith arises from a healthy and robust theology.  Today, let the words of Mary’s Magnificat (Song of Praise) communicate to you a God who is aware, hears, and responds with power and grace.  Read it slowly several times and allow your own praise to arise in cognizance of what God has done and will do for you:

 

46 Mary said:

 

With all my heart
I praise the Lord,
47 and I am glad
because of God my Savior.
48 He cares for me,
his humble servant.
From now on,
all people will say
God has blessed me.
49 God All-Powerful has done
great things for me,
and his name is holy.
50 He always shows mercy
to everyone
who worships him.
51 The Lord has used
his powerful arm
to scatter those
who are proud.
52 He drags strong rulers
from their thrones
and puts humble people
in places of power.
53 God gives the hungry
good things to eat,
and sends the rich away
with nothing.
54 He helps his servant Israel
and is always merciful
to his people. (CEV)

 

Amen.

 

Matthew 1:1-17

            If you looked up these verses, you might wonder if you’ve got the right text.  Is there really a genealogy in the lectionary?  Am I really going to get something out of this?  Yep, you are.  All of God’s Holy Scripture drips with grace, and the opening genealogy in Matthew is no exception.  At the heart of Matthew’s gospel is a presentation of Jesus and his teaching that centers on the kingdom of God with Jesus as King, the one whom is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises.  So, then, the genealogy is not just a chronicle of Christ’s lineage, but is a theological statement made by Matthew that Jesus is the promised Messiah.
 
            The genealogy includes four women in the lineage of Jesus:  Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.  Just so you know, women are central to the kingdom of God.  They may not have been important to ancient kings, but to King Jesus they play a significant role.  All four of these women were Gentiles.  King Jesus operates differently.  No matter your gender, your race, or your past (all four had a dubious sexual history), the kingdom of God is for everyone, and is not an exclusive club.  If God can use scandalous Gentile women to accomplish his purposes, who are you or I to tell God whom he can use and whom he can’t use?
 
            God acted in history by sending Jesus, the rightful king of the universe.  He is the Anointed One, sent to restore people to God.  He himself is our peace and our hope.  The kingdom of God operates on grace, and not in typical power position fashion of imposing self-serving agendas.  No matter our past or station in life, grace trumps it all.  Jesus is the One whom makes all the difference.  He is the rightful king.  And he uses his power to save and deliver people from sin, death, and hell.
 

 

            Merciful God, thank you for sending your Son, the Lord Jesus, to save, redeem, and love humanity, including myself.  Help me to walk in his steps of grace every day, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Galatians 4:21-5:1

            There can be something oddly comforting about law.  Having clear black-and-white no-nonsense rules can give a sense of security.  You always know where you stand.  You’re either in or out, pure or sinful.  Yet, here’s the deal on the law:  it is meant for the immature; it is designed as a guide to lead us to maturity.  If we live by law, we are bound by law.  Law can only take us so far in our walk with God.  Slavish commitment to rules must, at some point, give way to the greater virtue of grace. 
 
            The Galatian church wanted a religion they could hold in their hands.  But Paul was dogged on his devotion to a life of grace:  “Christ has set us free!  This means we are really free.  Now hold on to your freedom and don’t ever become slaves of the Law again.”  We are free to live in such a way that brings grace, love, and hope to others.  We are free to bask in the forgiveness we possess in Christ.  If our Christianity is reduced to some sort of point system and following the rules, then we have missed the point of the law to begin with – that it is meant to lead us to Christ and it must, at some point, give way to the larger law of love.
 
            Yes, the law has its place.  But we are perpetual slaves if we never outgrow it and move into freedom.  This is not an anything goes kind of life; it is a life attuned to the Spirit, and aware of living for Jesus through the fruit of the Spirit.  It doesn’t break laws; it fulfills them.  All Christians must grow up and become spiritual adults.  That means leaving childish ways of the law behind and embracing the freedom of the Spirit.  So, where are you in your Christian life?
 

 

            Gracious God, you have sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, to fulfill all the demands of the Law.  Help me so to live for Christ through the Spirit that I ooze his love, grace, and truth in all I do and say.  Amen.

Galatians 4:8-20

           I wonder if any one of us could say, with the same confidence as Paul, this statement:  “I beg you to be like me.”  Paul was a committed follower of Jesus – so much so that he ached and longed for others to embrace a life of grace, just as he had.  “My children, I am in terrible pain until Christ may be seen living in you.”  Paul was referring to the same pain as childbirth.  In other words, he was laboring and working hard to give spiritual birth to those that would become like Jesus.
 
            If you are a person who has experienced a transformed life in Jesus, as if you have been born again by grace through the Spirit, then you likely feel and resonate with the travail of Paul.  Knowing the elixir of grace, you want everyone to drink it in and be inebriated with its effects.  You want it so bad that it hurts.  You desire it to the point of exclaiming, “I beg you to be like me!”
 
            You may be spending the upcoming Christmas with some family or friends that are strangers to grace.  Either they are stuck in the clutches of the law and are complete stick-in-the-muds because of it, or they simply do not know what they are missing.  Either way, let’s together offer our passionate prayers to God for the grace of Jesus to overwhelm us all.  Like old Ebenezer Scrooge, perhaps grace will change everything.
 

 

            Gracious God, may you weave your way into the lives of those who need you the most, so that mercy will be more than a theological idea.  Work in me in such a way that I can stand with Paul and encourage others to be like me.  Amen.

John 3:31-36

            “The Son was sent to speak God’s message, and he has been given the full power of God’s Spirit.”  Well, there you have it.  This is a statement that every person on planet earth needs to contend with.  I, personally, have found in Jesus grace and truth.  I have come to believe the New Testament Gospel accounts of his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension.  None of that belief and faith came quickly or easily – it came as a result of primarily two things:  plain straightforward reading of the Bible; and, the wooing of the Holy Spirit.
 
            It really isn’t my job to convince you of the veracity of Jesus.  It is my task to point you to him and let God take over.  There is only one thing that I refuse to put up with in talking with people about Jesus:  If you haven’t read the Gospel accounts and you have rejected Christ, then, for honesty’s sake, have the gumption and the integrity to give Jesus an honest real hearing before you dismiss him with a slight of hand.  It is one thing to genuinely not know about Jesus, and it is another thing altogether to ignore him when you have some knowledge about how to find out about him.
 
            Everyone who has faith in Jesus has a life-giving connection with God.  Those who don’t, don’t.  If you do not agree with that statement, then contend with Jesus himself.  Give him a hearing.  Watch him in action.  Observe how he deals with people.  See if he lives up to his words.  Then, come back and we’ll talk.
 

 

            Blessed Father, Son, and Spirit, you are the Holy Trinity, the God whom I serve.  Lead me to those you are leading to yourself so that we can talk about Jesus, my Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Galatians 3:23-29

            Ever since the fall of humanity those many millennia ago, people have had the predilection to organize themselves in groups that keep them distinct from other groups.  Whether it is high school peer groups or office politics; whether it is class warfare or church cliques; there has always been this tendency to think better about the groups we identify with, and to look down and believe the worst about those we don’t understand or just don’t plain like.
 
            But Jesus is the person that changes it all.  “Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.”  I’m not sure the English translations of Paul’s phrasing here can truly capture his emphatic pathos about this issue.  For Paul, Christ’s cross has done so much more than bring personal salvation; it has completely eradicated prejudice, discrimination, and division.  The church is to be the one place on earth where divisions do not exist anymore.  It is to be a foretaste of heaven. 
 
            Since the ground is level at the cross, we are to live into Christian unity with an attitude of humility and meekness, and with actions of gusto.  One way of doing this is to simply walk across the room and meet a new person and engage them in some meaningful dialogue.  Walk across the street and talk with a neighbor for whom you think you have little in common with. 
 

 

            Gracious God, you have abolished barriers through the redemption of Christ.  Prevent me from erecting walls that would divide and use me to be a bridge so that others may experience equality in Jesus.  Amen.

Matthew 8:14-17, 28-34

            When I was a kid, every evening after the news I watched a show called To Tell the Truth.  The show featured a panel of four celebrities attempting to correctly identify a described contestant who has an unusual occupation or experience.  This central character is accompanied by two imposters who pretend to be the real character.  The celebrity panelists question the three contestants.  The imposters are allowed to lie but the central character is sworn “to tell the truth.”  After questioning, the panel attempts to identify which of the three challengers is telling the truth and is thus the central character.  The host would then say, “Will the real _____  please stand up!”
 
            The four panelists would often miss the real person, mainly because they had certain expectations of what the real person’s occupation or experience would be like.  And their expectations just didn’t match reality.  The people of Christ’s day often missed who Jesus really was because their expectations chiefly centered in a Messiah who would beat up the pagan Romans and establish a strong political kingdom that benefited them economically.  And that is why they missed the real deal because Jesus did not fit their preconceived notions of Messiah.  The real Jesus is compassionate, cares about people, and brings transformation to people’s lives, irrespective of whether it can turn a buck for somebody.
 
            The real Jesus puts people before pigs.  That might sound like a no-brainer, but, believe me, in Iowa I knew of more than one farmer who treated his pigs better than his family.  Jesus continually put people first before anything else.  He delivered two men from a terrible demonic bondage with the result that an entire herd of pigs was lost.  However, the town didn’t rejoice over the transformation of the men.  They just begged Jesus to go away before he messed up their economy even more.
 
            Jesus did not come to boost the local economy and make sure the political system was all warm and fuzzy toward the local merchants.  He changed people’s lives brought deliverance from emptiness.  The irony in the story is that the farmers and farming community had their hearts revealed as the ones who were truly empty.  Will the real empty hearted people please stand up!  What do you expect from Jesus? 
 

 

            Jesus, you are the rightful King of this universe.  May I participate with you in your agenda for this world so that I might exhibit the same care, compassion, and concern for people that you did.  Amen.