Tag Archives: advent

Great things can come from little ones (Advent Week 2)

advent 2.bethlehem“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” Micah 5:2

Bethlehem means “house of bread” in Hebrew. It was first occupied by the Canaanites for farming as early as 1350-1300 BC, the earliest known written reference. Overshadowed by Jerusalem only 10 km away, this small, out of the way village – often known for nothing more than its anonymous farmers and shepherds – would play a major part in Jewish history.

Rachel, the favored wife of the patriarch Jacob (also known as Israel) and mother of Joseph, died there. Joseph would be sold into slavery by his eleven jealous brothers while herding sheep on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Guided by God, Joseph would end up saving Egypt and his family from starvation during a time of famine. His ability to interpret dreams would convince the Pharaoh to store grain for the dark days ahead. After subsequent enslavement in Egypt and forty years of desert wondering sustained by manna, the brothers’ descendants would return as one people, the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Later, Naomi and her gentile daughter-in-law, Ruth, would return to Bethlehem after the death of Naomi’s husband and sons. It was Naomi’s ancestral home and former village. If nothing else, they hoped to survive by gleaning, collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields as allowed by Mosaic Law to show mercy toward the poor. Ruth will meet Boaz amidst the grain fields and a relationship will be forged one night on the threshing room floor. Where there had seemed no hope, love and new life would come.

Their descendants would include a simple shepherd boy, David, who would become a great king. According to Matthew 2 and Luke 2, Bethlehem would eventually become the birthplace of Jesus, descendant of David, Son of God, the Bread of Life.

Bread was the basic food for all Israelites, rich or poor. Thus, it came to be a common metaphor for life and abundance. In the Temple, bread would be used as part of a symbolic offering to God. It wasn’t meant to be a food to God, but it was there as a sign of thanksgiving for the provision of the people with their daily bread. In homes, breaking bread became a sign of hospitality. Bread is not really extraordinary. It’s the ordinary stuff of daily life, and yet it proves also the stuff of miracles. For God is active in the ordinary, blessing us right down to the provision of our homes, clothing and food.

Much as bread and grain woven throughout the Bible, so was Bethlehem. Unremarkable in and of itself, Bethlehem and its ordinary people would become part of an extraordinary story. It’s the story of salvation which ultimately came to a climax through the life of a small and seemingly ordinary baby.

Our congregation might be small. Our lives might prove ordinary. Yet God is here – active amidst the ordinary, making us sacred, opening a way forward to new life. Here, we share in the joys and struggles of life together. Here, hopelessness is transformed into hope. Here, we are being made part of God’s story, one God is still telling. A happy, miraculous ending lies before us.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

 

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What do you expect? (Advent, Week 1)

advent 1.expectation

As we enter this busy season of Advent, we seek to dig deeper into scripture, practice spiritual disciplines, and prepare in many practical ways for Christmas to come, but do we really hear the promises of God amidst our hurry?

As human beings, we find ourselves too often really human doers. The scriptural mandate to “be still and know that I am God” probably is far from our reality. With the stress we face and time crunching around us, we probably aren’t so keen on listening to or looking for God. Life can wear us down, and instead of joy, we tend to find it difficult to believe that the ancient promises of God can leap off dusty pages of the Bible and into our busy, modern lives. We tend to expect too little from this season and from our God who loves us.

“Expect nothing and you will never be disappointed.” “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” “Expect the worst and hope for the best.” If you look up this week’s Advent theme, expectation, on the internet, that’s the kind of worldly wise statements that you’ll find. Yet as Christians, expectation really proves the breeding ground for miracles.

For long ago, a prophet foretold that a virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son. He would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Prophesy also promised that the babe would be born in Bethlehem, although it was a small and dusty town on the outskirts of civilized Jewish society. He would be a descendant of a remarkably surprising collection of people: Jews and gentiles, kings and paupers, untrustworthy shepherds and even a prostitute. He came to share our life and lose his for our sake. He would prove to be God with Us, Emmanuel.

Although this all was promised, few could say anyone really expected it to happen as it did. In fact when it finally came to pass, the story starts quite simply, “[Joseph] went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.” What a child he would prove to be!

Much like those who first heard the message of the angels and encountered Jesus in the manger, please slow down. Redirect your attention to what God is doing in our world and your life. Ponder the great purpose of Christ’s coming. Don’t let this season pass without its good news touching your life. Advent invites us to expect the impossible. Jesus, who came as a baby, God in the flesh, came for you and for me. He came that we may have life and have it abundantly.

Trusting in Jesus, seek first to know what he expects from you and your life. Expect nothing less than a future full of hope and life without end. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

 

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The Christmas rush isn’t all bad

race_of_the_santas_breckenridge_1

“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright,” so the song goes. Unfortunately, our Advent and Christmas can seem anything but calm. As I write this, it is mid-November, and yet, our congregation’s planning teams have already been working on our Christmas together for weeks. Christmas music has started to play in stores and in some cases on the radio. One of my neighbors has already set up their Christmas tree even though Advent doesn’t begin for almost two weeks!

Our society seems impatient to experience Christmas joy and peace. Perhaps this is because there is too little joy and peace in our world. At this time of year, it gets busier at our congregation and busier in our homes. Light dims and darkness grows. Unexpected bills happen. Sickness and death comes. After Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and on and on, terrorism and war frighten us. We hope for an ideal Christmas because our lives in a fallen world are always less than perfect. Too little is calm, and our future may seem dark to us. We often hunger for a reprieve from our pain and busy, unpredictable life.

Jesus came into a time of trouble not so unlike our own. People were lucky to reach their teens. Thirty was considered old. Israel was an occupied country with isolated rebels and thieves (especially in Judea) seeking to defeat the Roman Empire and perhaps get a little economic advantage and power for themselves at the same time. For their part, the Romans wished to assert their power at all costs. Their vassal king, Herod the Great, was known to be tyrannical if not a bit mentally unstable. It would be he who ordered all babies and toddlers in Bethlehem murdered over fear that the recently born Jesus would usurp his throne. Life was hard and often unfair.

Despite these threats, Jesus came as a most vulnerable babe. He was a child of scandal, for his neighbors had heard of Mary’s pregnancy prior to her marriage with Joseph. Many in that day were poor like Jesus’ own family, and they often lived and died by the discretion and generosity of others with higher stature. Jesus didn’t come into the world to avoid our pain. Instead, he embraced and crushed it forever. As one liturgical communion prayer reminds us, “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.”

Most certainly, we can be encouraged that Jesus shared in our weakness and sorrows in order to share with us his victory over sin, suffering, death and the Devil. Against all odds, peace forcefully broke into our world to live among us and die among us through Jesus. For a moment, all was calm and all was bright because God was finally with us in the flesh. It was time for all creation to pause, worship and give thanks.

A mere 33 years later, all too soon, Jesus died, rose and ascended into heaven. We were warned life would not be easy in his absence, but it wouldn’t remain hard for ever. Similar to our wait for Christmas morning, creation “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” It might prove a bumpy, fearful ride at times until then, but there can be joy on our journey. For Christmas day has come, and Easter is on its way. And all the while, we’re not alone. We are the church together: enlivened by God’s Spirit, sharing both our pain and joys with one another; offering pardon to those still in darkness. We are rushing not toward our death but toward a certain future filled with hope.

With all the saints before us, we can pray with confidence as we face any darkness, “Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come.” We don’t know the time, but we can trust Christ is already on his way. And when he comes, all will be calm and bright forevermore. For this time, Christ will be here to stay, and despite whatever might go on around us until then, I for one can’t wait. If that’s our future, let time fly.

 

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (December 2015 – January 2016).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2015 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Be born in me, again and again

Angels appearing before the shepherds, by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Angels appearing before the shepherds,                                     by Henry Ossawa Tanner

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”(Luke 2:13-14)

What a powerful, enduring image – an angelic multitude proclaiming the birth of Jesus to poor shepherds in a field! In great works of art or on more humble Christmas cards or creches, even in our favorite carols, we imagine them in song with the shepherds below basking in the glory and love of our God. How much more should we let our lives sing a song of gladness? For Jesus came not to remain in that stable, but instead plans to come to us where we are. He desires to reside in our hearts.

Mary (1914), by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Mary (1914), by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Yes, through our faith and baptism, we share a more similar experience to Mary’s own. She was a poor, relatively uneducated young lady; likely 13 to 15 years old. She had lots of questions, doubts and fears to wrestle with, yet when the angel announced she would become the mother of the one true God, she submitted. Her magnificat (a song of praise captured in Luke 1) declares with certainty, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Mary was God’s favored one, and we share in that favor. Truly, Jesus waits to be born in each of us and reborn each day. No matter how we perceive ourselves with our varied gifts and struggles, God has come to us declaring each of us beloved child. Prophets in the Jewish scriptures predicted a time when the Temple would be no more, for our bodies would become the place where the yet unknown Christ resides. The Angels in the field proclaimed that Jesus came for all of us who are poor, imperfect and in need of love.

In Jewish theology, our heart represents more than an organ or emotional passion, it reflects our utmost being – the depths and totality of who we are. That’s where Jesus wishes to reside. So, Jesus prayed that we be one as he and the Trinity are one. It is Jesus who chose and called each of us to follow him. It is he who wants to live inside us and through us so intimately in every moment that he names us as his body. This good fortune is offered as a certain gift to all who dare trust in his promises.

Surely, Christ’s presence will upset our lives. It might even make us the objects of scorn or worse. Yet, “Do not be afraid!” God’s favor will never disappoint. Walk on so that your life becomes his song. Walk on trusting that Christ walks with you and that many more miracles shall surely come. His presence will bless us beyond our expectations.

The Christian singer Francessca Battistelli in a recent song imagines these words coming from the heart of Mary and her own, “I am not brave. I’ll never be. The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy. I’m just a girl. Nothing more. But I am willing, I am Yours. Be born in me.”

Do not doubt any longer, but believe. Open your heart and welcome Christ at each new sunrise or whenever darkness falls. The promises of God are fulfilled in your hearing. Blessed are you! Holy are you! Sing to the glory of God, so that all might believe!

Be born in me (Mary), Francesca Battistelli 

This post was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s newsletter, The Messenger (December 2014/January 2015).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2014 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Star of Joy – Advent, Week 3

Star of Joy

Stunning Geminid Meteor Shower Views Wow Skywatchers (Source: Space.com)

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. (Matthew 2:10)

The word joy is one of the most frequent words found in scripture – about 200 times depending upon the translation you read. This might surprise some people who think of faith as a burden. Yet, joy is exactly what God desires for us.

Oh, it isn’t that joy we get as we open a new Christmas gift. Nor was it fully reflected in the joy of the Magi as their journey came to an end by the manger. No, this joy goes deeper, lasts longer, and never ends. It is the joy that Christ gives us through trusting in his love for us. It is the kind of joy that can’t help but overflow.

Indeed, Jesus is our joyful gift; to welcome into our hearts or reject freely. Rather than forcing us to come to him, he comes to us. He put people in your life to invite you, challenge you, and call you to himself. He saves you because he delights in you (Psalm 18:19). You bring him joy! In fact, he says he chose you as you are, so that you can share in his mission of bringing his joy to others and find joy along your way.

Jesus said that his life, teachings and example were given for us “so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” This joy isn’t something we chase after or hide away. Instead, it is something we live in community – whenever we love one another as Jesus taught.

 

Discussion questions: How are you personally called to bring the joy of Christ to others? What joy do you share with your family of faith?

 

The above reflection was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s worship bulletin for the Third Sunday of Advent, 2013. It is meant to complement Creative Communications’ Bright Star of Bethlehem series for Advent and Christmas.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2013 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Star of Unity – Advent, Week 2

Nasa has released an image of the 'light echo' produced by the glare from a star that was, for one brief shining moment, the brightest in the night sky.

An image of a ‘light echo’ produced by the glare from a star that was, for one brief shining moment, the brightest star in the night sky – V838 Monocerotis (Source: Daily Mail)

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

Through the fall, the world suffered what seemed to be irreparable separation from God. Instead, the rest of scripture reveals God’s ultimate plan, the reconciliation and unity that occur through Jesus Christ.

In the Jewish scriptures, God promises time and again to use the Jewish people as a means to bless all nations. In the Gospels, we see Jesus preach, teach and do miracles in ways that heal the world and draw people together in his love. As the church begins, we learn from the Spirit that there is no longer gentile or Jew, male or female. Economic and political differences, ethnicity and language are moot points when it comes to the reach of God’s love.

In the end of time, all promises will be fulfilled. Jesus will come again as “the bright morning star” announcing:

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” (Rev. 22:17)

Until that day, we have been called together to be his one body, the church. On his behalf and with his authority, we have the honor and duty to share the water of life and invite all we meet, “Come, follow Jesus. Be one with us in his love.”

 

Discussion questions:

What gets in your way of a deeper relationship with Jesus? How do you live as one with his church? How can you invite others into such a relationship?

 

The above reflection was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s worship bulletin for the Second Sunday of Advent, 2013. It is meant to complement Creative Communications’ Bright Star of Bethlehem series for Advent and Christmas.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2013 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Star of Creation – Advent, Week 1

This new Hubble photo is but a small portion of one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula.

This Hubble photo is but a small portion of one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula.

Luther observed, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” God is, was, and always will be part of the creation that surrounds us.

Yet in a fallen world, that wasn’t good enough. The works of sin, death, and the Devil enslave our lives, separating us from God and one another.

Instead, God longs for relationship and intimacy; to replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. Through the prophets, God promised to make his home with us, not in some new stone temple, but in those same hearts so prone to wander and fail.

Into the world, God sent his only Son to fulfill this promise. Jesus would take on flesh for our sake. He would live for us, work for us, suffer for us, and die for us. From his resurrection, our own eternal life springs forth.

Through the mysteries of our shared faith and baptism, we now become a new creation, freed from our flesh and the limits of this world to be the children of God. We are saved to be his body which proclaims the Good News: Jesus has come into the world to offer new life to all.

 

Discussion questions: As part of God’s creation, the promise of resurrection is written in each of us, as we are now. How does your life signify or serve as a promise of the resurrection? How could you “shine more brightly” to better give God glory and point others toward Christ?

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI), downloaded on November 30, 2013 from:
http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1647.html

The above reflection was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s worship bulletin for the First Sunday of Advent, 2013. It is meant to complement Creative Communications‘ Bright Star of Bethlehem series for Advent and Christmas.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2013 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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