Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Edward Herrmann Has Died

Edward Herrmann, one of my favorite actors, has died at age 71, from brain cancer.

He played FDR in Eleanor and Franklin, later voicing Roosevelt in the Ken Burns documentary on Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor, televised earlier this year.

And he was wonderful in The Gilmore Girls. Herrmann was also in The Paper Chase.

Loved his voice; it lent both vitality and heft to History Channel documentaries on both the American Revolution and the US presidents.

Because Herrmann was in it, I actually went to a theater in 1979 to see him a forgettable Walt Disney studio production called The North Avenue Irregulars. (This was one of those films produced after Walt's death and before Michael Eisner revitalized the Disney brand. You get the idea.) Nonetheless, even in this movie, Herrmann turned in a creditable performance as a young Presbyterian pastor.



New Year's 2015 Prayer

The greatest challenge to our faith in Christ comes when we struggle to do the will of God even when it's the last thing we want to do.

Christ give His people the power to meet that challenge in 2015...including this powerless lump of self will and confusion whose only hope is Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Amazing Archaeological Find Underground in Cappadocia



Jewish pilgrims from Cappadocia, visiting Jerusalem, are mentioned in the account in the book of Acts of the first Pentecost after Jesus' ascension. (Acts 2:9).

One wonders if the churches found in this enormous city were where the spiritual descendants of those first-century Pentecost converts, worshiped.

History often overlooks how important Turkey was as a center of evangelism and development for the early Church. Finds like this only serve to further confirm that.

Does Science Point to the Existence of God?

Carl Sagan, the entertaining popularizer of science and creator of the original Cosmos television series, once said that there were two conditions for the existence of life forms and with that proclamation, confidently predicted that we would eventually find more life in the universe. We might do just that.

But it turns out that Sagan was off wildly about the numbers of conditions needed for life. The two conditions he posited were:
...the right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 27 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.
After decades of probing by science and the space program, it now appears that there are more than 200 factors identified as necessary for life to exist and, as a result, a shrinking number of candidates on which such conditions might exist.

But, Eric Metaxis says in article in The Wall Street Journal, there are even more mind-blowing results and implications from years of scientific inquiry:
The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.  
Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row.
Science seems to be suggesting that the universe didn't just happen from some underived vacuum.

Read the whole thing.


7 Deadly Things

These seven things, which The Week has identified from scientific research reported in 2014, will either kill us or make us sick:

  • Too much sugar
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Smoking pot
  • Being a pop star
  • Playing football
  • Having too little Vitamin D
  • Being in an unhappy marriage

No surprises here, I suppose.

Read the whole thing. (It's short.)

Sheep Need to Surrender to the Shepherd

Of Psalm 23, probably the most beloved of all the psalms: "The blessings and comfort of this psalm do not come to sheep that do not follow the Shepherd. As Jesus reminds us, 'My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me' (John 10:27)."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Very True

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” (Charles Spurgeon)

"There. I said it."

Part of my reaction to a photo of Ohio Stadium taken from a friend's drone and posted on Facebook by fellow grad of Columbus West High School.

My exact response: "I want a drone. There. I said it."

I think it would be ├╝ber cool to own one and put a GoPro camera onboard. No, not to engage in surveillance, but to get great shots of things like Ohio Stadium.

Another classmate, of the female variety, responded to my admission, "Boys and their toys."

This boy would love to own that toy.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

"Fraternization"



WBNS TV sports anchor Dom Tiberi makes a great point.

When bowl season comes around, I always root for all the Big Ten teams. As a fan, I'm loyal to the conference in which my alma mater plays. That's an unnecessary thing for an alum and a fan, I know.

But no Big Ten coach should ever help a bowl opponent of one of the conference schools to prepare for games.

It's not good for the conference as a whole or for the recruiting efforts of individual schools for any of our teams to lose post-season bowl games.

And the stakes are even higher when one member of the conference is in the running for the national championship.

A win by Ohio State over Alabama (an admittedly tall order) will only make teams like Indiana, Michigan, and Penn State, Big Ten teams with whom the Buckeyes struggled perhaps more than they should have this season, look better.

A win will add a gleam to the conference and enhance the entire conference's ability to convince the best players in the country to put Big Ten schools at the tops of their lists.

If Big Ten coaches actually gave Alabama advice on how to beat the Buckeyes, it speaks ill of those coaches. But beyond that, it makes them seem less than smart, failing to see how in the bowl season, conference competitors need to stick together. Maybe there should be a conference policy on such "fraternization."

On the other hand, given the "success" of Big Ten coaches against Ohio State this past season, maybe Buckeye fans should encourage the coaches to keep dishing.


Saved

[This was shared during worship services with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, earlier today.]

Galatians 4:4-7
This morning, I want to ask you to do a thought experiment. 

This is a stretch: But, let’s pretend that you’re an average, normal Lutheran walking through a crowded mall. You’re minding your own business, not bothering anybody else--because, after all, you are an average, normal Lutheran--when a young man walks up to you and with urgency in his voice, asks, “Are you saved?” 

By now, you are practiced at fending off such unwanted discussions with strangers. So, you say, softly, so that nobody else can hear (because, after all, you are an average, normal Lutheran), “Why, yes, I am saved.” The young man, pleased with your answer, scans the mall for the next person to speak to.


I mean no disrespect either for the interviewer or the interviewee in this little vignette. The young man is right to want to share his faith in Christ with others. Jesus has commanded—and not just suggested that—all Christians make disciples. 

On the other hand, the average, normal Lutheran is right to feel that making disciples ought to happen more in the course of conversations between two willing participants than in a flash of religious verbiage among strangers.


After the encounter, our average, normal Lutheran finds a bench to wait for his wife while she hits the After-Christmas Sale at Bath and Body Works. But he can’t help thinking about the young man’s question: “Are you saved?” “Am I saved?” he asks himself. 

And that’s a good question for me to pose to you this morning, one average, normal Lutheran to another: “Are you saved?”


For our answer, we’ll be looking at today’s second lesson, Galatians 4:4-7. 

Before digging into it though, we should be honest and note that both Jesus and the Bible teach that there are people who will not be saved and that there are things--like sin and death, over which we have no personal power, from which we all need to be saved

According to Jesus, for example, there are people—maybe people you and I know—who will go to hell. In one of Jesus’ parables, Jesus tells about a wedding banquet filled with people who gain entry into the celebration by wearing special wedding robes issued by a king. One man crashes the party without such a robe. The king has him thrown out, Jesus says, into the “outer darkness, where there [is] weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 

The point of Jesus’ story is clear: Those who seek to gain entrance into eternity with God while remaining naked in their sins, unclothed by the forgiveness that belongs only to those who repent for sin and believe in Christ, will ticket themselves for separation from God, for hell. 

Hell is real. 

But life with God is also real

And because both heaven and hell are real, this business of salvation has life-and-death importance for every single human being!


Now, please turn to our second lesson for today, Galatians 4:4-7. It’s on page 812 in the sanctuary Bibles. 

The church in Galatia, to which this letter was written, was started by the apostle Paul, the writer of this letter, in about 49AD. Galatia was a prosperous region in what is today Turkey. The church’s members were Gentiles, non-Jews. They had received the good news of new life for all who believe in Jesus Christ through Paul’s ministry. 

But since Paul had left them, a group of people known as Judaizers had come along to confuse them about their faith. They told the Galatians that it wasn’t enough to believe in Jesus. If they really wanted salvation, the Judaizers said, they also had to submit to Old Testament ritual law, which had been rendered unnecessary by Christ's crucifixion. The men had to be circumcised. Everybody had to conform to Jewish dietary laws. They needed to make sacrifices for their sins, as though the sacrifice of the "Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world" was insufficient. All of these things and more, they claimed, were conditions for salvation.


Some people in the Galatian church bought into all this nonsense. They allowed themselves to turn what God had given as a free gift—new and everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus Christ—into a legal transaction. 

Others, intimidated by the Judaizers in the way our average, normal Lutheran was in his encounter with the young man at the mall, were rocked back on their heels and wondered, “Am I saved?” 

Paul responds to this question and to the decision of some to turn their backs on power of Christ’s free gifts of forgiveness and life for all who turn from sin and believe in Him alone. “You foolish Galatians!” Paul says in Galatians 3:1. “Who has bewitched you?” How could you have forgotten, Paul is asking, that you’re not saved by your good deeds or your standup characters or by conforming to religious law, but solely by grace through faith in Christ?


Now, please look at our second lesson. Paul talks about the coming of the Son at Christmas in verses 4 and 5: “…when the set time had fully come [when the time was right according to God’s timetable], God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem [to redeem means to buy out slavery] those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” When God decided that the time was right, He sent His Son. But, as we remember at Christmas, Jesus didn’t come in the full majesty of His deity. Nor did He arrive with the paraphernalia of the worldly kings. He came as a man to share our lives, our deaths, and our condemnation for sin. That’s what it means to say that He was "born under the law," the very law that condemns us to death for our sin. So completely did Jesus share the condemnation for our sins that First Peter 3:19 tells us that Jesus, after His death, even experienced life in hell, where “He made a proclamation to the imprisoned spirits.” Jesus did all this so that those who believe in Him share in His resurrection victory and never need to ask themselves, “Am I saved?”


To be "saved" is to be adopted as God’s children. This is an important point! Jesus once told some of His fellow Jews that God was no longer their father. Genealogical descent from a man named Abraham did not make them children of God. “You belong to your father, the devil,” He said in John 8:44. 

We can only be adopted as God’s children when we believe in Jesus Christ and in what only He has accomplished for us through His cross and empty tomb. We are saved by the blood of Jesus, our Savior! We are adopted into the family of God as a gift of God to all with faith in Christ.


Verse 6 says: Because you are his sons [his daughtersm his children], God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ You know that you’re a child of God, that you’ve been saved, when you’re able to call God, “Abba!” 

“Abba” is the term Jesus used for “our Father in heaven” when He taught us the Lord’s Prayer. In Jesus’ everyday language of Aramaic, “Abba” was the term that little children used for their fathers, a term that connoted all the trust a child has in her or his daddy. When you trustingly and submissively pray to your Father in heaven, your own spirit is confirming that God’s Holy Spirit lives within you and that you are a child of God through faith in Christ.


Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like a second-class Christian because you don’t have the same spiritual gifts or the same spiritual experiences that they claim to have! If you humbly pray to God, your Father, you have the Holy Spirit. You are saved. And He will bring You comfort, hope, guidance, and the assurance of God’s love for you, no matter what happens in your life.


Paul underscores this in verse 7 of our lesson: So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. In another place in the New Testament, Romans 10:9, Paul writes: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”


Both of these passages are crystal clear: If you believe in the Jesus revealed in life and on the pages of Scripture—who was born of a virgin, suffered death on the cross for our sins, raised from the dead by God the Father, who offers new life to all who turn from their sins and believe in Him—you can rest assured that you have been saved. You are a child of God!


Now folks, that’s such an incredible thing that, while we may not like the method of the young man in the mall of our little scenario, we should be able to understand why he wants to share the good news of salvation for all who believe in Jesus with others, don't you think? Yesterday on Facebook, a colleague from the NALC posted a quote from C.H. Spurgeon: "A Christian who is not a missionary is an impostor."


Confident that we have been saved through Christ, may 2015 be a year in which we average, normal Lutherans join the apostles Peter and John, who, when facing persecution told those who threatened them with punishment if they ever again spoke in the Name of Jesus, “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” [Acts 4:20] in Jesus, the One Whose Name is above all names [Philippians 2:9], the One Who has saved us.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are saved. That's good news. It should comfort and empower our living. And it is worth sharing. Amen!






Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Saint Stephen's Day!

Happy Second Day of Christmas!

Happy Boxing Day!


Happy Saint Stephen's Day!


Saint Stephen, a layperson, was the first believer in Jesus Christ as God, Savior, and Lord to be killed for his faith. 
The believer in Christ is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ undertakes the process of replicating Himself uniquely in each believer, which is why Saint Paul, submitting to the death of his old self, could write elsewhere, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me." 
In Stephen's brave and faithful martyrdom, you can see how Christ lived in him and the confidence in God he had as a result, even as he drew his last violence-plagued breaths. He was even able to forgive his murderers.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Christmas Shepherds

[This was the Christmas Eve message at this evening's second service of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]

Luke 2:1-20
I want to talk with you tonight about the shepherds. 

As you know, the story of Jesus’ birth is only told in two of the four New Testament Gospels, Matthew and Luke. Matthew doesn’t even mention the shepherds. But in Luke’s telling of the story of the first Christmas, the shepherds play an important part. 

Why? And what has that got to do with you and me this evening?


The mystery of those questions increases when you learn more about shepherds. In first-century Judea, where Jesus was born, shepherds didn’t have very positive reputations. In a society that viewed wealth as a sign of God's favor, shepherds were poor. They were loners accustomed to spending their lives in fields where they made their homes, unafraid of the terrors of the night that might be brought unannounced by bandits or wild animals. Shepherds were tough. And like Moses, who lived and died about 1500 years before Jesus was born, many who became shepherds often were running from the law. 

When I think of the shepherds Luke talks about in the Christmas story, I think of men like the cowboys of the American West. The shepherds might have been the kind of people you wanted at your back when you got into a scrape. But they were so independent and untethered that if you had to spend any time with them, you’d want to sleep with one eye open and keep a hand close to a weapon.


It was to these kinds of people—tough, grizzled, impoverished, fearless loners—hated by society and often themselves contemptuous of society, that heaven chose to make the first announcement of the birth the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord of the world. 

Luke tells us about the shepherds’ role in the events of the first Christmas in just two scenes. I only want to talk about the first of those scenes. It’s found in verses 8 and 9: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”


The shepherds were terrified! 

These guys accustomed to fending off thieves and killers and wild animals in the dead of night were terrified. For us, this is like imagining Liam Neeson or Joey Bosa being terrified. 

Of what? Of one angel? Maybe.


But here’s where I think their terror came from: “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” To us, that phrase--"the glory of the Lord"--may not mean much. We have so domesticated God, turned God into such a buddy, that we seem to have lost any sense of how supreme, how infinite, how great, how powerful, how perfect God is. 

If the prospect of coming face-to-face with God doesn't terrify us just a bit, our understanding of God is impoverished. It is incomplete. Believe me, if we’re in our right minds, there couldn’t possibly be enough Xanax, Zoloft, or Prozac in the universe to fend off the anxiety you and I should feel about coming into the presence of God’s glory!


Although I yearn for the day when I see my Lord face-to-face, I know that I will also blush and shudder and shake and try to hide behind other people when I do. 

God is sinless; I'm not. 

God is supremely powerful; I’m weak and mortal. 

God loves perfectly; I love imperfectly. 

God forgives; more often than I want anybody to know, I keep score.


If it weren't for the Christ Child Who brings forgiveness to all who repent and believe in Him, the very thought of being in the presence of God's glory would leave me in a perpetual state of terror. What right does a sinner like me, or like those shepherds, or maybe like you, have but to expect the just judgment and condemnation of God over our lives? None. In truth, the Bible teaches that you and I have no rights and we certainly have no right to stand upright in the presence of God!


When those unsavory shepherds were surrounded by the glory of God, they were confronted vividly, powerfully, and unmistakably with the fundamental reality of human life: God is God and we are not. And in the same moment, the shepherds, in the brilliant light of God’s glory would have also seen the truth about their own sin and their need to be saved.


I hope that on this Christmas Eve, as we light the candles, the glory of God will fill our hearts and minds and wills so we can see that we cannot force our way into eternity. We can’t be strong enough, good enough, smart enough, tough enough, or accomplished enough to gain peace with God or peace with ourselves. We need a Savior.


Our Gospel lesson tells us that while the shepherds were transfixed in terror, more happened. The “angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”


Jesus had come, the angel told the shepherds. He was the Savior of the world, the Messiah, meaning God’s Anointed One or, as we say it based on the Greek of the New Testament, the Christ, and the Lord, meaning He is the King of everything. Yet they would find Him, the angel said, not in a palace, attended by servants, but barely clothed on a cold Judean night, lying in an animal’s feeding trough. 

In Jesus, God laid aside the privileges of His deity. He left the pleasures of heaven. He submitted to the difficulties of this life. He absorbed within Himself the brutal realities of human death and sorrow. And He let go of all—privilege, pleasure, power, comfort—in order to grab hold of, to restore, to make new, to enliven something infinitely more important to Him than any of those things. He came to die on a cross and rise from a tomb in order to destroy the power of sin, death, and futility over the lives of those who turn from sin and trust in Him for forgiveness, life, and purpose for living.


The angel called his message good news, euangelion in the original Greek in which the New Testament was written. Another word that translates euangelion, from the Old English, is Gospel. That night, the angel had good news for the shepherds: 

They weren’t alone; God had come to them. 

They didn’t need to be utterly ostracized; God was willing to forgive and befriend them. 

They need not live in futility or die in despair; God had come to give abundant life to all who would surrender to the Lord in the manger. 

They didn’t have to be afraid; the God of infinite perfection, power, and holiness didn’t want to condemn them to a life or an eternity without Him.


Is it any wonder that after the shepherds heard the angel’s message and then watched an army of heavenly beings sing God’s praises. that they quickly sped to Bethlehem to find the baby?


And tonight, the angel’s good news is good news for you as well. 

You too can come to the Savior, Messiah, and Lord Who has come to grasp hold of you. 

And every time He reaches out to you, whether in His Word, in worship, in the Body and Blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine of Holy Communion, in the fellowship of believers, in the physical needs of a neighbor, and in the need of our spiritually disconnected friends to know Jesus, you can once more let Jesus grab hold of you and help you, and bring you into the very arms of God.


One of the enduring memories of my childhood happened on a cold winter night when I was about seven or eight. 

My Dad and I watched Ohio State basketball together a lot when I was growing up. If the games were being played in the Central Time Zone on a school night, though, I couldn’t watch. I was supposed to go to bed at the same as my sisters, often before the away games even got started. 

On this particular night, late in a Big Ten championship run by the Buckeyes, I was sent to bed at the usual time. But about a half-hour later, I saw my Dad open the door of my room and ask quietly, “Mark, are you still awake?” “Yeah,” I said. “Well, come on to the living room. The game’s about to start.”

I have to tell you that, though he could be tender, I was intimidated by my Dad when I was growing up. He could be stern, a bit of a task master. I didn't like crossing him.


On this night, when I got to the front room, I found that my Dad had popped some popcorn and laid out some Coca Cola that he had iced down in the snow on the banister of our front porch. 

I sat down beside my father, his arm wrapped tightly around me as we watched the game. I’m sure that my Mom was somewhere in the room with us at the time, but I have no memory of her being there. And I don’t remember who the Buckeyes were playing or how the game turned out. 

But the thing I do remember vividly is sitting on the couch and looking down to notice my father’s hands holding me with strength and love. I lived in the purest pleasure of just being with my Dad. And I wasn’t afraid. In that moment, I knew that I was loved and that the only way I could be separated from my father’s love was if I walked away from him.


Christmas presents us with the good news that our heavenly Father has opened the door between heaven and earth. He bids us never walk away from Him, but let Him hold us and love us today and in eternity. He asks us to be with Him. And He promises that if we will let Him and we have the guts to turn from sin and turn to Him as our only God and King, He will be not just God and King to us, but also our Savior and our Friend

Let the God we know in Jesus be those things for you, not just at Christmas, but every day. If these very blessings could come to people like the shepherds, they can also come to you and me.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Amen


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

That Last Post...

...the one right below this one, was #6300 on this blog, which began back in 2002. I had little idea what a blog was then. (The term blog is a contraction of the words web log.) But it seemed like a nice place to "park" my sermons and newspaper columns on the web.

It took me a while to warm up to the whole idea. But I did eventually.

The current count of page views from Blogger for the blog that was originally titled, Better Living, is at nearly a half-million. But I'm guessing that the total page visits since the beginning has been closer to half again that many. At the start, I had no way of tracking traffic. Later, I installed something called Sitemeter. But when I installed Blogger's metrics calculator, the Sitemeter count disappeared. So, I lost all record of the counts prior to that.

Several years into the life of the blog, there was a lot of traffic. One reason is that blogs were new and people were checking into them frequently. Another is that major sites often linked to the posts here, especially those on politics. (I rarely took a stand on issues, just commented on the politics and history of politics.) Politics remains a hot topic on the web, but not here.

Maybe the post that has received the most traffic was this 2006 reaction to the Gospel of Judas, a gnostic document that National Geographic touted as something significant. I didn't (and don't) think it was. A number of web sites linked to that simple, quickly written piece, including The New York Times, which mentioned it, along with blog posts by other folks reacting to the document.

Today, much of the daily traffic to the site is driven by web searches. (By the way, I have no idea who the folks who visit here, represented by these aggregate numbers, are. Don't want anyone to think that I'm playing Big Brother.)

Why do I keep blogging? Above all, to lift up Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, the One Who brings forgiveness and new, everlasting life with God to all who repent and believe in Him. And I still need a place to park the sermons.

Besides that, to be honest, I write, because I can't not write. That's how I roll.

One other thing, in case you're wondering. I get about a penny every time someone clicks on one of the Google ads that appear here. The checks don't come until I've amassed $100 in clicks. In the past twelve years, I've made $500 from the ads. I'm a professional blogger, you know. Move over, Arianna, Ann, and Glenn.

Thanks to everyone who has dropped by here over the years. Feel free to leave comments, too; I always enjoy reading them.


Love This

"It does not take much to make us realize what fools we are, but the little it takes is long in coming." (Flannery O'Connor)

Relax...Christmas is Coming, Whether We're Ready or Not

Good words from David Wendel on this Tuesday in the Fourth Week of Advent, two days before Christmas.

In Advent, we remember that Christ is coming again. Outward preparation will neither hinder or hasten Christ's return. That's in the hands of God alone. So, whether in relation to the coming of Christmas or of Christ Himself, relax. Repent. Be renewed by God's only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John...and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” –Luke 1:5-25

As we are now at the day before the day before Christmas, we hear the story of a birth. The birth, however, is that of John, the forerunner of Jesus—as well as his cousin. How could Jesus be born before John? We have to hear of the birth of John to Elizabeth and Zechariah to understand that John was all about preparing the way, making ready for the Lord a people prepared.

And many in John’s day did return to the Lord God, and many hearts were turned through the ministry of John. Many were prepared for the coming of the Lord. And are we prepared? Have our hearts been turned during this season of Advent? Has this time been one of repentance and renewal for you and me?

We have probably each had joys and sorrows during Advent. We have surely had ups and downs. Most of us will have done better and worse at repentance, renewal and preparation. Still, our Lord comes. Christmas comes, whether you and I are ready or not. This is the good news—that the coming of Christ does not depend on us and our preparation and readiness. We can remove hindrances and barriers, but He comes nevertheless.

As a parish pastor, I actually welcomed arriving at the day before the day before Christmas. It meant I’d done all I could do, and Christmas would happen in spite of what I had accomplished or failed to accomplish. I encourage you, today, to let go and be at peace. Give yourself a day, if at all possible, to breath, pause, rest, spend time with friends and loved ones. Consider yourself prepared, regardless!

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Come to we who are prepared and ready, and come to the rest of us as well. Amen. 

Holiday Cheer Report: Christmas Eve Eve Edition

Everywhere I've gone today--restaurants, stores, filling stations, the church, people have been so cheerful, so full of the Christmas spirit. 
At one point today, ate at a local restaurant and the owner sported a Santa hat. She was effusive and welcoming.
The clerk at the Staples store who helped me with a scanning job took time to look at the children's book I was scanning--to be projected while I read it to the children at tomorrow's family Christmas Eve service--and remarked on the beauty of the pictures and the story. When I came back to pick up the flash drive he created for me, he even turned to a page to talk about one illustration he particularly loved. 
A woman standing in line behind me looked through it and gushed.
At Aldi's, everyone said, "Merry Christmas!" and deferred to those with heavier loads at the checkout.
Folks at the filling station, no doubt cheered in part by paying just a $1.92 a gallon, were smiling and chatty with each other.
Repeatedly, around shopping malls, drivers have been quick to make way for people trying to get into the lanes they need to enter to make turns or just to pull into the traffic.
It's been fun to see and experience.