Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

The Mystery in Our Midst

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is one of my favorite Christmas carols, so I sing it with gusto. Sometimes my “gusto” is a little overpowering. I noticed this on Christmas Eve when I saw the gentleman sitting ahead of me sticking his finger in his right ear! I just can’t help myself. The lyrics of this carol resonate with me, especially these lines: “Hail the incarnate deity / Pleased as man with men to dwell / Jesus, our Emmanuel.”

“Emmanuel” – God with us – speaks volumes about the the blessing of Jesus’s birth, with “incarnate deity” affirming his status as fully God and fully man. “Pleased as man with men to dwell” shows the willingness, the self-emptying nature of the Son who was “pleased” to take on our frail flesh so that we might participate in the love relationship that is integral to the Triune God. These short verses from a well-known hymn reveal the heart of the Divine toward humanity.

But they don’t reveal everything. And I don’t know about you, but I like to know EVERYTHING. I like to see ten miles down the road; I like to have a plan; I like to be prepared. The story of Emmanuel doesn’t tell us everything. Like why tragedy happens in our world and innocent people suffer. Like how we are supposed to go on when we lose someone or something we love and value. Like when we will see some evidence of God’s power or healing in a world that often seems hell-bent on self-destructing.

It’s hard to live with not knowing, and our human nature makes us seek certainty and permanence, only to realize that nothing in this world is certain or permanent. Nothing, except Emmanuel, the one who was pleased to live in the midst of our suffering. Somehow we must come to terms with the mystery of God never being fully revealed, though Jesus himself says that “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (NIV, John 14:9). Author Peter Rollins says, “The point is not that the mystery of God is dissipated in the Incarnation, but that this mystery is brought into the heart of the world. The mystery is in our midst. The unknowing is here dwelling among us” (The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction).

While we can’t see ten miles down the road and we can’t have a plan or be prepared for everything, we do know that within this mystery and unknowing is a Heart that is for us, one that is present in our tragedies and unbearable losses and one that is working out healing despite the world’s chaos in ways we could never fathom. That’s the heart I sing about when I sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” That’s why I must belt it out with gusto (sorry, fellow singers around me!). News of the loving Mystery dwelling with us is too good not to share loudly.

~by Nan Kuhlman

Youtube video courtesy of JakeSD19

Resistance, Beauty, and Light

christmas-lights         One of my favorite Christmas traditions is outside Christmas lights, but for a number of years, I couldn’t bring myself to go out into the cold to loop lighted strands around the bushes in front of our house. Then manufacturers developed the lighted “net” that you could just drape over your bushes so the lights were evenly spaced without quite so much work. That is, unless your bush was like one of mine, shaped like an overgrown evergreen that required a number of these nets to cover. After that overgrown evergreen bush didn’t survive a particularly hard winter a few years ago, we had a rather large space left. It was then I found my perfect solution to bringing light to the dark evenings in December: a small outdoor tree with brightly colored lights. I carry that tree out to the empty space, and in an homage to the overgrown evergreen that used to occupy this spot, I plug in the tree and bask in the glow of red, blue, and green lights.

It seems simple, this bringing of light to the dark world of winter. As I look across the street, I am cheered by the Christmas lights I see my neighbors have taken the time to put out, and I see how taking time to create a beautiful array of lights is our gift to each other. The beauty of those lights resists the darkness.

This reminds me of a story I heard from the founder of a nonprofit organization called Women International (womenforwomen.org). Zainab Salbi shared the story of her visit to a war-torn country where she met with some of the women affected to find out what supplies she could bring them to help. She suggested vitamins or other practical items, but the women she visited told her to bring them lipstick, saying something like, “When the snipers look at us through their scopes, we want them to know they are shooting at a beautiful woman.” These women resisted the darkness of their situation by recognizing their beauty and doing something that would make them feel that beauty.

So many times people think that resistance must be negative. We’ve witnessed protests and the burning of effigies. We’ve read harsh words and watched disrespectful commentary. Somewhere along the line human beings lost the idea that one of the best forms of resistance is beauty and light. When we create beauty with lights outside our homes at Christmas, we are also resisting darkness. Could we recapture the notion of resisting what troubles us by creating beauty for ourselves and for others?

The very birth of Jesus is a type of resistance. Those looking for the Messiah expected a king to march in and break the rule of Rome; God Incarnate came as baby. Others thought that the birth of a king would take place within all the trappings of wealth; the Son of God was born in a stable and placed in a manger. The Father resisted complying with human assumptions about what a king should be in order to reveal himself, his grace, his love. The Son willingly emptied himself of his glory, resisting human tendencies to take honor and glory (Philippians 2:7). The Spirit moved the hearts of the shepherds and the wise men to see the beauty of this resistance, “the Light of the World” (John 8:12), and bow before it (Matthew 2:11, Luke 2:15).

Everyone knows that light dispels darkness, but the Christmas story shows how resistance can choose the way of beauty and light. It’s not always convenient or practical, and it certainly breaks the mode of fitting in with a typical human response. The tradition of decorating with lights honors that, and our challenge is to carry that same desire to create beauty and light beyond the end of December, not just for ourselves but for our neighbors and for the world.

~by Nan Kuhlman

Let’s Get TWO-gether With Jesus And Go!, pt.3

Two by Two Going Out With Jesus

https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/15-12-27-lets-get-two-gether-with-jesus-and-go-pt-3-matt-9-10-tah.mp3”

In this last and year-end message in a series about discerning God’s vision for His congregation at New Life Fellowship of Baltimore. MD., we continue asking “How is Jesus speaking to us RIGHT NOW through these scriptures and directing us in His mission locally?”

This message of God’s Good News continues to get very specific about what participation with Christ looks like for us in this world! It asks and discerns: Where and with whom do we begin? How do we address healing in our day as we proclaim Jesus? How should we steward Jesus’ money, and how will we live in Jesus’ peace – on mission with him – as sinners in THIS broken world?

The message can be summarized in this quote:

“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture, and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security… To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying down the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1934 [Renate Bethge’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life]

Come check it out and walk with us!

Merry Chaotic and Disturbance-filled Christmas?!

Killing babies

Matthew 2:1-3 New International Version (NIV)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod…[Herod] was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

I don’t know about you, but I want to run from Christmas chaos! I hate the thought of everything from the slowed up, jammed up traffic, to the packed out gas stations, highways, and stores of frenzied people pushing and shoving, literally, to get “deals” (or NOT because of getting punched by other people who snatch the “deals” right out of their greedy – oops – grubby little hands! HaHa!) Yikes!

But, as much as I hate all of that, I have to admit this atmosphere seems more true to the context in which Jesus was actually born 2000 years ago; only chaotic danger and disturbance when God enters the room in flesh, as one of us! I’m even thinking that maybe its sort of indictment against Christ’s Body, the Church, that there is not more chaos and crisis at Christmastime in our world at the proclamation of this Jesus Christ Who has entered it?

As I read Mathew’s story of Jesus’ birth, I am especially struck at how disturbing it is for the Son of God to come into the ordinariness and horrors of our broken world as man; how chaotic it really is (how disturbing it should be till everyone knows and trusts Him?! ) Everyone and everything disturbed at the entrance of the Son of God coming in flesh – “God With Us!” A marital engagement is disturbed by embarrassment and shame, and then met with the prospect of divorce before the wedding can happen! A king is disturbed enough about Jesus’ birth to lie, hunt for and cross regional lines to kill babies and toddlers hoping he killed Jesus! A family is on the run from an evil father and his ruthless ruling son!….hmmm…

Maybe Christmas isn’t really about encouraging a cute religious experience after all. Not about a nice teaching that will make people nicer and more peaceful. Maybe it’s not even about making people confident in going to heaven after “death by trampling” at the mall.

Maybe Christmas is about the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Spirit rumbling in like a jumbo jet and, through His Body the Church, fostering airwaves and noises of disturbance, prompting crises, as the Church excitedly and urgently encourages and warns its brothers and sisters of the need to get ready for the return of the Christ in “Christ”-mas???

As much as I’d like to know NOW the peace that is promised in Christ’s coming, I have to admit that because the God the Father sends His Son, in the Spirit, into the chaos of this world to be with it and see it saved, that’s the way he is still moving on earth in his Church Body till he returns bodily again! How could there not be chaos and crisis with God breaking into our world?; against evil and our broken human nature, to redeem what He has already redeemed in the glorified humanity of Jesus???

As N.T. Wright has written, for Jesus there is “No point in arriving in comfort, when the world is in misery; no point having an easy life, when the world suffers violence and injustice! If he is to be Emmanuel, God-with-us, he must be with us where the pain is.” Where the Head, Jesus, is, so must his Body, we, be, right?

Perhaps the real peace I long for, and you long for, at Christmas is where Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it was when he wrote, “There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture, and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security… To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying down the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.”

Merry Cross-mas to You as We Enter the Chaos and Participate with Christ in His Loving Disturbance,

– tjbrassell

 

Photo courtesy of: http://www.muchoburrito.com

Christmas: God’s Plan and Response For Man!

God With Us

https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/15-12-20-christmas-gods-plan-and-response-for-man-matt-1-2-9-10-tah.mp3”

In this Message on the 4th week of Advent, and heading toward Christmas, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to those gathered in worship at New Life Fellowship of Baltimore. The special emphasis of this message is that just as the Head, Jesus, was born into this world 2000 years ago as God’s Plan and Response for humanity, His Body, the Church, follows Him today, participating with Him in his ongoing work of redemption in this present world!

Check it out and be assured and unafraid as you GO with Jesus into our world, proclaiming Him in word and deed!

 

picture courtesy of ad-ne.org

Doubting Zechariah

ZechariahThere’s something I find interesting about the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer. When Gabriel tells him that he will have a child in his old age he doesn’t believe it – but it still happens anyway. In fact, Gabriel says “oh, it’s going to happen, whether you believe it or not, but just for being so doubtful, why don’t we make you mute for a while.”

We might have thought that Zechariah’s lack of faith would derail the whole plan. We might have thought that Gabriel would say, “forget it then, I’ll go find some other old priest that does have faith.” But that’s not how it plays out. That’s not how God works.

The Father, Son, and Spirit, aren’t counting on our faithfulness to bring Divine plans to fruition. God knows we won’t always be like Mary and that we’ll often be like Zechariah. The plan moves forward anyway, because it’s God’s plan and not ours.

Of course, our lack of faith can make our participation in God’s work more difficult (I’m sure Zechariah’s muteness became quite a burden over the ensuing months) but it is the faith of Jesus that is working out the Father’s plan for us, and Jesus’ faithfulness never fails.

~ Jonathan Stepp

Christ Will Come Again

Jesus in BabylonEvery New Year when I was a kid I would wonder to myself, “will this be the year that Jesus returns?” This was partly because I was surrounded by a lot of church-talk about the second coming when I was a kid and partly because I was just fascinated by the apocalypse. (In my years of working with children and teens I’ve noticed that a surprising number of them are interested in the end of the world. The movies they watch and the video games they play have something to do with that, I think.) So, here it is, the year of our Lord 2015. As a child I just assumed that Jesus would be back by now, or that we would at least have colonies on the moon and flying cars to keep us entertained while we’re waiting.

I don’t think much about Jesus’ second coming any more. Usually once a week is the norm – when we say the line in the Eucharistic Prayer “Christ will come again.” Some people do think about that great gettin’ up morning on a regular basis – and I’ve noticed something about those people. For many of them (not all) this world and this life have proven to be very difficult. If you are poor, or suffering persecution for your faith, or struggling with chronic illness, the day of our Lord’s appearing is something you long for. You look forward to a day of healing, of justice, and of resurrection.

Some time ago our Bishop here in Western North Carolina was speaking about the resurrection and he humorously commented on the way Episcopalians sometimes trail off to a bit of mumbling when we say “Christ will come again” – many of us seem to have some doubts. He then observed that it may be that many Episcopalians are doing quite well in this present life and therefore aren’t particularly interested in the life of the world to come. (Just a note: he did not say this attitude was a good thing.)

If this New Year finds you suffering, take heart: the day of the Lord is nearer now than when we first believed. If this New Year finds you overflowing with blessings, do not forget to join Jesus  in his solidarity with the downtrodden, the outcast, and the persecuted. Do not forget to long for the day when he will make all things new and do not fail to say with boldness every Sunday, “Christ will come again.”

~ Jonathan Stepp

God’s Coming Humanly Means God’s Going Humanly!

victory in jesus

 https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/14-12-28-gods-coming-humanly-means-gods-going-humanly-hebrews-10-19-25-tah.mp3

Do you wonder how you can live through suffering in a way where you are still filled with FAITH, HOPE and LOVE? Where you can know VICTORY and experience New Life and a Higher Dimension of LIFE and DIGNITY? 

On this 1st Sunday after Christmas, Pastor Timothy Brassell of  New Life Fellowship of Baltimore points us to the answer to this dilemma in this GOSPEL FILLED GOOD NEWS message entitled, “God’s Coming Humanly Means God’s Going Humanly”and shows through Hebrews 10: 19-25  that, God Father, Son and Spirit KNOW and SHARE IN our real suffering through JESUS CHRIST! In Christ, God reveals that He is not one who stands apart from suffering, but One who stands WITH US, stands ESPECIALLY IN HUMAN SUFFERING!

Listen and understand better that:

~God’s coming as a human being, him becoming human through Christ, means He comes not just in our celebrations but in the depths of our human sufferings!

~Since the Ascension of Christ, humanity has a hope built on an accomplished fact that humanity could not have before the Ascension. That God has taken up our cause in CHRIST and not only cried our cries but in the resurrection and ascension He has ANSWERED our cries and has VICTORY over them now, IN HIS PRESENT HUMAN BEING! In Christ, God has been a Gift for Himself and for us!!

~The most clear understanding of who God is, IS JESUS CHRIST! Understand our participation with Christ now in the “Rhythms of Grace” and not “Regulations of Law”, as ways of relating with Our Father and Jesus in the Spirit !

~The most clear understanding of who man is, IS JESUS CHRIST! To see Jesus from His birth to His Ascension before the Father is how we understand what it really means to be human, since Jesus is and always has been God’s Plan for Man in man’s adoption!

~God’s Coming Humanly Always means God’s Going Humanly! His coming always means His going = God’s Being a Living, Active and Dynamic Lord, filled with Life and Movement! NOT A STATIC GOD!

WILL YOU COME AND GO WITH HIM, as His chosen disciple?

Christmas: What It Means! Why It Matters!

christmas

 https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/14-12-22-christmas-what-it-means-why-it-matters-john-1-1-14-tah.mp3

 On this 4th Sunday Of Advent 2014, Pastor Timothy Brassell of  New Life Fellowship of Baltimore delivers this Christmas message filled with ASTOUNDING GOSPEL GOOD NEWS entitled, “Christmas: What it Means! Why it Matters! and shows through John 1: 1-14 that because JESUS IS THE WORD made flesh, CHRISTMAS MEANS: That God in Jesus LISTENS to us and FEELS us – That God is CHRIST LIKE, he has revealed himself in Christ – That man was made in the LIKENESS of GOD.

In this message we grasp how Christmas helps us:

~ Rehearse why it is important to hold to the fact that Christ shared in our actual and sinful, human flesh, inherited from Mary, His mother, AND “dwelt among US” and not in some other make-believe fantasy world that doesn’t exist!

~ Recognize and Live more fully in Reality in our daily lives, and in line with Who God is as Revealed in Jesus Christ, and who we are in Jesus; Recognize what Christ’s Ministry and Mission can and should look like among believers.

~ Respond to the burning questions: “Does God REALLY Care?” “Who and What is God REALLY Like? and “Will God REALLY turn out to be like Jesus?”

~ Realize why every human being has worth and is full of dignity even in this present, evil age (while also understanding reasons why the horrors of Nazi Germany happened and how its rotten strategies and effects are still being played out in our ordinary lives all over the world!)

….and MORE…

 

Photo compliments http://www.neloo.com

 

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