Revelation 7:9-17 and Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Here is a scene from before the throne of God for us all:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’

11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 singing,

‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ 14 I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 For this reason they are before the throne of God,
    and worship him day and night within his temple,
    and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
    the sun will not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

Amen!Merry-Christmas-Nativity-Facebook-Cover-19

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Revelation 5:6 and Little-Known Christmas Imagery

154Lots of images are well known for Christmas–shepherds, angels, wise men, Mary in blue, baby Jesus in a manger. There is a less well known image of what Christmas means in Revelation:

Then, in between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain.

This one sentence says quite a bit about who Jesus is. The Lamb is Christ, because he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It had been slain because Jesus was crucified and died, although the Lamb is alive now because he was also raised from the dead.

Then there is the location of the Lamb. The throne is God’s throne. The four living creatures represent creation. The twenty-four elders are representative of Christians and the Church. So…Jesus Christ–who died and was raised again–is in the middle of the way between the throne of God and creation, and he is in the midst of the Church. This makes sense because Jesus is God, he came into creation in the Incarnation, and the Church is the Body of Christ on earth.

This image is packed full of meaning, and it could only exist because of Christmas and the Incarnation.

1 John 2:1-6 and Christmas Gifts and Holy Living

71cc576fe952ab951258150e0766797dChristmas is in a few short days, and as Christians we try to remember that the best Christmas gift was Jesus himself. We have signs and bumper stickers saying Keep Christ in Christmas and Jesus is the Reason for the Season. It is all true. As a sign I saw yesterday proclaimed, Mary wrapped the first Christmas present. Jesus’ person is the best Christmas gift, and a holy life for us is the second best gift. Look at what John wrote:

My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world. This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. The one who claims, “I know him,” while not keeping his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this person. But the love of God is truly perfected in whoever keeps his word. This is how we know we are in him. The one who claims to remain in him ought to live in the same way as he lived.

Jesus is our advocate before the Father if we fall into sin. Gift #1. We do not have to fall into sin. Gift #2.

When we try, with God’s grace and love, to keep his commandments, we are enabled to do so. In fact, John goes so far as to say that God’s love becomes perfected in us when we try to keep the commandments. If we fall short and still sin, we can thank God for Gift #1. But what we cannot do is cease trying to live a holy life. Christ is our redemption so that we can live a holy life. When we cease trying to live how God would have us live, how Jesus lived, then the truth is not in this person, according to John.

As we get closer to Christmas, thank God for Jesus Christ, Christmas Gift #1. And ask him to help you with holy living, Christmas Gift #2.

Hebrews 1:1-4 and Christmas Makes Christianity Different

20150802Every religion in the world has a list of rules that were given, in some form or fashion, from on high. Adherents to that religion then need to do the best they can to live up to those rules and laws. At the end (either one’s personal end or the end of all things), these people will be judged by how well they kept those laws. Whether it is Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, or any other religion, this is how it works. The vision and understanding of what a reward is may be different, but the process is the same.

Christianity is different, though. It is different precisely because of who Jesus Christ is. He is the One True God who came in the flesh. Look at the introduction to the Book of Hebrews:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by the Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

The reality of Christianity is that it is not a message that was given by human prophets nor is it a message that was mediated by semi-divine beings like angels or demigods. Instead, the One True God came to this world and gave us the truth of the Gospel. Because of God’s presence on earth in Jesus Christ, we now have access to the very presence of God in heaven.

God, through his ministry on earth, has opened the heavens to us. Instead of us trying to work our way to the presence of God through following a legal code, God comes to us and offers himself to us. The requirement on our part is that we offer ourselves to him and live for him. It is not a long list of rules and laws we are to follow, but rather it is a life of love for God and all other people that we are to live, and the presence of the Living God in our lives actually enables us to do this. We are not left alone, struggling to climb our way to God. God has come to us and offers us his grace and power in our lives to remain in his presence.

Christmas is about God coming to earth to eliminate the distance between us and him. Christmas is about the Son, the Living God, who took on flesh and dwelt among us so that we could dwell with him.

Shame at the First Christmas

mary-and-joseph-603772I was talking with someone the other day about Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their “not-so-warm” reception when they arrived.  I know there are a lot of explanations out there that say in with the animals was the best place to stay, but really?  Doesn’t it seem a little more plausible that the emphasis on “no room at the inn” is there because it was a slap in the face that they didn’t get a room?

If everyone was returning to ancestral homes for the census, then Joseph (and Mary) had family in Bethlehem.  Not only did they have family, but their extended family also was returning to the same town.  Add to that the Middle Eastern reputation for hospitality (and there always being room for one more) and one can get the distinct picture that this couple was denied space with their family.

Why?

Shame.  Mary was pregnant.  Joseph was not yet living with her.  One tradition even has Joseph being much older than Mary, so the pregnancy was most likely viewed as not involving Joseph at all (old or young, the timing was off).  The family kept them out because Mary brought shame upon them.  Then they had to go to an inn, most likely explain why their family would not take them in, and end up in the stable.

Is that not just the way God seems to work, turning things completely upside down?  One of the greatest shames of all, being an unwed pregnant girl, is actually the most honoring event in the entire history of the universe, being the Mother of God!  The rejection that Mary and Joseph faced from even their own family contrasted with the acceptance of all humanity by God.

As many of us travel this Christmas season, let us remember how Mary and Joseph’s family reacted to them, holiday family dynamics in the extreme.  And let us be thankful that most of us will not have to deal with being rejected by our families.

For those that do experience that pain and rejection this time of year, perhaps the rest could figure out a way to turn that around and have it become a blessing for all.  I am sure, if we look at examples from Scripture and our own Church history, it would not take long to come up with some solutions that would turn sorrow into joy, pain into celebration, and rejection into acceptance.

 

Advent Thoughts

Gerard_van_Honthorst_001In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.  This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And with it, a rebellion began.

Lots of times we forget that at the time of Jesus’ birth, Judas the Galilean began his revolt against Rome.  This began with cleansing the Temple, refusing to pay taxes, the crucifixion of Judas, and the continuation of his movement.  In fact, this was the fourth large sect of Jewish people in the 1st century (after Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes), the Zealots.

This was a violent reaction to the Roman Empire.  Judas’ followers did not disappear, but retreated into the wilderness until the time was right.  They came back with a vengeance, started a revolution in 66, and were eventually trapped in the desert compound of Masada, and committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans.  Their revolt led directly to the destruction of the Temple.

We, as Christians, have to be careful we do not adopt the methods or goals Judas had, especially at this time of year.  With the (real or imagined) war on Christmas, the societal shift on homosexuality, or any other number of issues, we can get angry–sometimes to the point of using militant language–and demand our rights.  This is what Judas did.

Jesus was different.  He held people to a higher standard.  It did not matter what was legal or permissible or even acceptable in the sight of the culture around him.  If it conflicted with the holy life to which Jesus called his followers, they simply did not engage in it.

The message of Jesus is Good News for the entire world.  We need to make sure we proclaim it as such, not with angry rhetoric, but with peace on earth and good will towards all.  This time of year people look at the Church who usually do not give it a second thought.  Let us make sure we are following not Judas the Galilean, but Jesus of Nazareth.

Judas leads to death and destruction.  Jesus leads to life and salvation.

Judas saw government as the enemy.  Jesus saw sin as the enemy.

Judas fought violence with violence.  Jesus fought violence with love.

Judas tried to redeem a nation.  Jesus did redeem the entire universe.

Judas’ movement led to the destruction of the Temple.  Jesus’ movement led to the creation of a Temple that spans the globe.

Judas’ movement died.  Jesus’ movement still lives and grows.

Happy Advent!

Yes, America, There is a Santa Claus

529711b7-21dc-431b-8e03-8c1c5a080b4bThis time of year the fat man in the red suit makes quite an appearance.  From Coke to malls to everything in between, Santa is ubiquitous.

For those who are interested, there is a great website that has collected all of the historical information we have on St. Nicholas and how this historic person has become the “Santa with a Coke” we have today.

There are plenty of crafts, stories, and ideas for celebrations this year that may be out of the ordinary for many people.  I strongly encourage you to check it out.

Merry Christmas!

St. Nicholas Research Centersaint-nicholas6