Christmas Caroling-December 17, 2014

Christmas Caroling, 6pm

Advent-December 1, 2014

Advent

In the larger Christian church the beginning of a New Year is marked by a season of anticipation. This anticipation is of the birth of Christ and is known as Advent. The word advent comes from Latin, adventus which means coming.

There are slight variations of when this time starts within the Christian church. These variations do not change the meaning. The season is understood as a solemn time for preparation for the mystery of the incarnation. The liturgical color of the season is purple, except on the third Sunday, when it is rose. You will often find these colors represented vestments, stoles, paraments, and flags, but most often in an Advent Wreath.

The wreath itself is represented by evergreen branches symbolize the everlasting life in God. The circle is representative of the unending and eternal nature of God. Each candle marks a time in life all leading to the anticipation of the coming of Christ at Christmas. For the believer today we do celebrate and acknowledge the birth of Christ, but also it takes on new meaning as well as the faithful await the return of Christ.

What is it that we are anticipating this December? Does our excitement come in anticipating sales at retail stores, or a deeply desired gift? It seems as if each year the retail world is trying to tell us that Christmas is all about us, our greed, our desires, our families, our…that is not what it is all about.

Christmas is Jesus Christ. Advent is a prolonged season of anticipation to remind us that Christmas most certainly is not about us but about Jesus. It is about reminding us to celebrate even that which we can’t completely understand. It is tempting to think that we “understand” Christmas. We are to take this time to prepare of the mystery of the incarnation. The incarnation is truly a mystery in many ways. The fullness of God is present in human flesh, born to a virgin, sinless, helpless babe, to live life as a man, tempted in every way, showing us how to live, and then giving his so that we can live abundantly here, and also giving us something to look forward to anticipating our reunion with him.

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable (unspeakable) gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

It is truly indescribable the great gift we have in this mysterious incarnation. I may never be able to find the right words to describe what is beyond my ability to complete understand. What I do understand is the result of this incarnation allowed me experience the God in a personal and loving way. I also understand that it is because of Christ’s sinless sacrifice that I am given the opportunity to live in relationship with God in this life and beyond. It is truly mysterious, beautiful, marvelous, gracious, and loving.

While we celebrate many things let us be reminded that God made himself personally known in Jesus Christ and that was the greatest gift given to the world.

The Good News…Love is Alive-November 1, 2014

“The Good News…Love is Alive.”

I was reading the other day when the author mentioned how often 1 Corinthians 13 is mentioned as part of a wedding ceremony. It is used so often in this context because the chapter speaks of love that sometimes we lose the larger context of what the passage of scripture is about.

Who then are these words written for and what do they mean for us today? The Church at Corinth was the original recipients of this letter. They were a gifted church but were immature and unspiritual. Factions had begun form in the church, lack of spiritual maturity lead to moral lapses, false teachings, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and neglect of the community around them. It seems that this church had its own fair share of struggles. In the middle of that we find this chapter about love.

Why is that significant?

I think today we also have churches that are gifted, have so much skill and talent but often forget love for God and love for others. In times where the latest news is some scandal or church split what good news would it be not to hear of a split but a church reconciliation. This radical letter reminds the members of this church that to be a church they must be in Christ and that their love must be for Christ. It is what trumps all the giftedness in the world. We can do all the “right things” for all the wrong reasons and if we do not love…what good are those gifts? The gifts we have are not for our glory but from God to give God the glory by loving and serving one another in the same manner Christ also served us. That manner is one of sacrifice and love. In the last hours of Christ’s life his prayer for his disciples is that they would be one as he and the Father are one. His prayer was for unity, which doesn’t mean uniformity, we all have different gifts used for the same purpose to honor God, serve each other and reach the world.

Into our self-centered, divisive world comes this “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails…And now these remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, 13

I think it is great that we use this at weddings because Paul also refers to the Church as the Bride of Christ and Jesus as the Bridegroom. This sounds simple but is very hard to live out either in marriages and families or in our church families we know that this will require us to seek Christ first, and in learning to put Christ first we can begin to also learn to model that in how we relate to one another, work together as the body, and bring hope to the world today. This scripture challenges the church not to look to themselves but God’s love as the motivating and binding factor. Then we would become truly the body of Christ (incarnation in the world today) and that the next headlines could be, “A Church reconciled to God and each other,” “Alive! Well! Loving!”   This truly is good news for a broken world. We are blessed and gifted to be a blessing, what good news.

Revelation 20-22-December 10, 2014

Chapter 20

An angel or servant of God binds Satan for a number of years 1,000 which should not be taken literally, it is a multiple of 10 and means completely.

It is the faithfulness of the believers that will help to bind the evil, evil has no agency in the world but through humans

New life and second death…new life is life in special relationship with God, and is not exactly described…second death, is spiritual or eternal separation from God.

Whenever the faithful do not remain faithful evil is able to present itself more readily in the world.

Gog and Magog or Old Testament representations of the persecutor (Rome, Ezekiel 38-39)

Those who sin are turned over to sin, they will remain in the choice they have made.

All people at one time or another will face God’s judgment whether all at once at the end of an age or in stages perhaps as each person dies.

Chapter 21

There here is a description of a new or transformed place or state of being where evil is no more.

There is no more threat of martyrdom, the time of persecution is over, and a new age is dawned.

The new Jerusalem is shrouded in the number 12 which is a special number.

It is also measured again for protection and so on, and is described as a cube which could be a reference to the Holy of Holies. The city is the place where the Presence of God continuously dwells with all the people whom God has redeemed.

There is no temple in this which has limitations of time and space but the idea is that God is always there.

Chapter 22

Now there is no more persecution the faithful are free to continue to take the message of God to other nations.

John ends with the idea that this vision is from God, remain faithful, because this time or age of persecution will soon be over.

The faithful will find victory because the message of God will live on when the present age of persecution has past and even has more significance and substance because of those who were martyred for this cause.

 

Revelation 17-19-December 3, 2014

Chapter 17

The seer is now told that he is about to witness the judgment of the “great harlot.”

John relates that he saw a woman seated upon a “scarlet beast.” One notes with interest the description of this beast is quite like that of the beast of chapter 13.

Some scholars argue that the name on the forehead is appropriate because harlots in Rome wore labels above their eyes with their names on them.

This woman represents the political system at that time persecuting God’s people. She was “drunk with the blood of the saints and (even) the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (v.6)

The description of the seven as rulers, “five of whom have fallen,” (i.e., are already past), “one is, the other has not yet come, and when he comes he must remain only a little while” (v.10), clearly teaches that the persecution is near but still has a short period of time to run its course.

The identification of the beast, however, is another matter. John clearly wants the readers to be able to identify this figure. It is an “eighth,” which belongs “to the seven”; that is the demonic character of the beast (as it now is) is taken from one of the past rulers who has been “reborn” (figuratively, not literally). One like or in the pattern of Nero, persecuting believers.

10 kings do not have power but will ally themselves with the beast.

It is an important idea that the forces of evil recruit as many as possible to wage war against the Lamb.

The martyred witness of the church becomes a part of that victory.

The beast will turn on the harlot and destroy her, because evil is self-destructive. Evil powers can not even trust their own.

Chapter 18

Good people are to get away from those who do evil so not to get caught in the judgment that will come on those and suffer more hardships.

Fire represents God’s judgment on this group, which has allied itself with demonic evil and has persecuted the people of God.

Some will stand far off at the time of judgment, will be affected if not directly indirectly because of their alliance.

The faithful those who are martyred, form part of the indictment of the judgment against evil.

Chapter 19

Rome (Babylon) is fallen and affirms what was right about the sacrifice of the martyrs.

Marriage of the Lamb(Jesus) and the Bride(church) clothed in splendor which is the righteous deeds of the saints.

9-10 the emphasis in not so much on the invited as it is to those who have accepted the invitation

God alone is worthy of worship, witnessing to God’s word in a time of persecution is one of the most powerful witnesses for that word in this world.

It is not so important how the judgment is going to take place but rather who is judging. The who is the Lamb, the Christ, who has already won the victory.

The blood has won the victory over evil and its cohorts.

The true character and essence of the rider is found in the banner or name on the thigh, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Evil will be defeated and there is a special place for those who have chosen to be a part of it.

 

Revelation 16-November 19, 2014

Chapter 16:1-9. There is some similarity of images between this cycle and with the cycle of the seven trumpets. There is, first of all, the idea that the penalty for a curse of sin should be appropriate to the act. Just like in the Old Testament and the New Testament, Revelation holds to the same principle: For men have she the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink. It is their due! (v.6)

The second point to be especially noted is the reference at the conclusion of verse 9. In spite of all the judgments and in spite of know that these had come from God because of their activity and participation in demonic evil, people still did not begin to repent and give glory to God.

Chapter 16:10-16. The reader or hearer learns specifically that these judgments are directed at the beast and those who follow the beast. This is clear in the episode of the fifth bowl (vv.10-11).

One of the most controversial passages in the book of Revelation is now encountered. An invasion from the east is described, a gathering for a great battle at the place called Armageddon. The fire of the invaders from the east is an apocalyptic means to raise the specter of the judgment on Rome. The Parthian Empire, great successor to the Old Persian Empire, was greatly feared in that section of the world by the Romans. To suggest this figure was a means John used to bolster the hopes of the faithful. God could and would use others to break the yoke of Rome’s persecution.

An assembling for battle is not described (v. 14). This gathering takes place at Armageddon. Who has not heard of this awesome place and of the horrors associated with the great conflict there?

The interpreter notes first that the word Armageddon is not a Greek word but is borrowed from Hebrew or Aramaic. Numerous identifications of the word have been made. To cite only a few, one finds “marauding mountain,” “the desirable city,” “the fruitful mountain,” “the mountain of meeting,” among others. Some have made specific identifications based on geography: “Mt. Carmel,” “the city of Megiddo,” or “the mount (hill) of Megiddo.”

Most commentators, however, think that the term derives from the Hebrew city Megiddo. (Whether the “Ar” or “Har” with it refers to “city” or “mountain” is largely irrelevant.) Why would that city be of some significance in this context? Many of the most significant battles that had great influence for the people of God were fought at or near Megiddo. The reason for this lay in the geographical setting of the city. It was near the entryway into the land from the north in the Plain of Esdraelon or Valley of Jezreel and was strategically located at the place where invaders were best confronted so as to keep them out of the land.

The interesting aspect of the description of Armageddon in this bowl cycle is that no battle is fought. They gather for battle, but God intervenes (in typical apocalyptic fashion) and destroys the enemies of the people of God without a battle. One also notes with interest that this is the only place in the entire Bible where the term Armageddon is found.

Chapter 16:17-20. The seventh bowl describes in typical apocalyptic imagery the fall of “Babylon.” By now everyone knows that Babylon represents Rome, the persecutor of God’s people.

In verse 20 there are references to islands and mountains (hills). Some commentators understand the islands to be a reference to the Roman islands used for detaining banished people (such as John, perhaps?) and the hills to be a reference to the hills upon which Rome had been built.

Interestingly enough those who are judged still blame God for their fate-a fate they have chosen.