Occupied with The Word

There are too many things begging us to pay attention to them, and we want to give equal attention to them all. Work wants us to do one thing, our family requires our attention over here, I need to get that project done on the house, exercise is important for our health, I need to run any number of errands, I want to hang out with friends, etc. The lists and number of things screaming at us for attention are far too numerous for us to fully give our attention to any of them.

Let me draw our attention to one verse in Acts 18. As Paul was in Corinth, where he went after leaving Athens, his partners in ministry had not yet arrived, but Paul went to work. Paul shared the Word, and the ESV interprets the author’s language as “occupied with the word”. The Greek understanding of this phrase shows that Paul was completely absorbed in knowing, understanding, and sharing the scriptures and the Gospel with the people of Corinth.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.  Acts 18:5 (ESV)

This level of absorption is the type of singular focus that he probably did not alter his course just because his partners in ministry had shown up. He most likely welcomed them as they arrived, but his focus and devotion to the scriptures, toward sharing the Gospel, and preaching to the people guided everything else in his life.

As a church and as Christians, we need to be occupied with the Word in such a way that everything in our life is informed by our study of the Gospel and the Word of God. How we treat our family, how we work, how we spend time with friends, how we take care of chores, how we speak with strangers, even how we exercise, all of this and more need to be treated in a way that is informed by the scriptures and the Gospel, such that when our people arrive they will see us occupied with The Word.

Celebrating the Life of our Dear Brother Kay Greer

Col. James McKay “Kay” Greer

MAY 16, 1932 – APRIL 27, 2022

Many of you may be aware that our dear brother Kay passed away in April. He was a dear friend to many in the Horizon Community and the spirit of Christ flowed through him to many that knew and loved him. He served Horizon through ups and downs, providing his voice to our worship in word and song, serving the church through leadership, and providing wisdom at many key points. One of the good things to come out of the pandemic, was that many of us were able to see Kay worship with us when we were on Zoom. We will certainly miss our dear brother, but rejoice that the Lord has called him home.

Below is the obituary that his family has shared. Pulled from Dignity Memorial.

On April 27, 2022 in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, James McKay “Kay” Greer peacefully left this world just shy of his 90th birthday. Born on May 16, 1932 in Hazard, Kentucky, Kay led an extraordinary life, including a career of service to his country in the Air Force. To say Kay was a man of many talents is understatement in the extreme: his basso profundo voice wowed listeners whether he was singing Handel or Gilbert & Sullivan, church hymns or Broadway show tunes. He could bring folks to tears reading scripture or knock them out of their chairs with hilarious stories. When he was barely more than a kid he drove trucks on the narrow and treacherous mountain roads of his Appalachian home (and later terrified his children on visits to the grandparents by driving the family car like a wild man on those roads, which were now “easy” because hey, now there are two lanes!) He was a High School Kentucky All-Star in basketball and played college ball with such fearlessness that — though he was the shortest guy on the team at 6’5″ — he dominated his opponents and even christened the brand-new floor of the Western Kentucky University gym with blood from his battle injuries (much to the ire of his coach, the famous E.A. Diddle: “Get offa my floor, Greer! Ya gettin’ blood on it!”). Even Kay’s “failures” turned out to be successes: the vintage 1957 MG Sports Sedan in the carport he worked so hard to rehabilitate wound up a fantastic fort for the neighborhood kids, complete with tie-dyed curtains in the car windows. Upon graduating Western in 1955, Kay enlisted in the Air Force and married his true love, Mary “Way” Drew Greer. “Way & Kay”, as they were known to all their friends, spent a loving and adventurous 64 years together until her passing in 2019, raising their children, traveling from one military assignment to the next, and eventually welcoming grandchildren and great-grandchildren into the family. Kay loved to fly. He started his Air Force career in Texas training to fly the Piper cub, the T-6 Texan, and the B-25. After a Jet Qualification course in 1959 (which he nearly didn’t pass when the tower announced to him over the radio that his new baby boy had just been born), he went on to fly the B-52, the plane that would be central to the remainder of his Air Force career. He then became B-52 Aircraft Commander at Westover AFB in Massachusetts and was in the air during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He became B-52 Aircraft Commander, B-52 Instructor Pilot, FB-111 and T-39 Aircraft

Commander, and Air Operations Officer at Carswell AFB, Texas. In the early 1970’s he became a B-52 Squadron Commander at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, from which he and his squadron were briefly deployed to Andersen AFB in Guam.

After that was Kay’s first Pentagon assignment, as a Division Chief for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations. His team worked on “special projects” in a nondescript vault in the basement, the directions to which included “… just past the purple water fountain.” (He would always grin when he mentioned that storied landmark in the bowels of the giant building.) He returned to the Pentagon in 1979 as an Officer, Joint Staff after an assignment as Wing Commander of the 509th Bomb Wing at Pease AFB, New Hampshire, which housed KC-135s and FB-111s. On June 30, 1985 Colonel Kay Greer retired as Chief of Staff, Headquarters 8th Air Force at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana after 30 years, 1 month and 22 days of service. He went on to a second career in the aerospace industry until his final retirement, as a Test Conductor for the B-1 Lancer at Rockwell International and a Manager for the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber at Northrop Grumman.

Despite his storied career, intellectual brilliance, and staggering talents, Kay was the warmest and humblest of men. He lived a life of service not only to his country but as a decades-long Presbyterian Elder in the church, always alongside his beloved Way who served as office manager/secretary of their church for twenty years. His humor, caring and sincerity charmed everyone he met, and humble Kay was the only one surprised that everyone seemed to love him. He walked through life in a constant state of wonderment for all the blessings he received from God, whom to the very end Kay faithfully loved with all his heart and all his soul and all his strength and all his mind.

Kay was predeceased by his parents Harry E. Greer and Mary Lee Harned Greer and his siblings Margaret E. Greer, Harry E. Greer, William H. Greer and Perry L. Greer. He is survived by his children Lori Greer Rossett (Rickey), James McKay Greer, Jr. (Denise), Julia Drew Greer, John Lincoln Greer (Jenny); his niece Cindy Drew; and his 14 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. A memorial will be held at The Fairfax, a Sunrise Senior Living Community where he and Way were surrounded by dear friends, 9140 Belvoir Woods Parkway, Fort Belvoir, VA 22060 on June 4, 2022 at 11:00 am, with another to follow next year at Arlington National Cemetery, date and time TBA. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Red Cross or Compassion International.

The obituary was pulled from the above link.

Reformed and Always Reforming

Five hundred years ago, the Protestant Reformation sought to change the church, to bring the focus back upon God. The Reformation had no intention of breaking free from the church in Rome but instead saw that the message of grace and mercy had been replaced with penance and indulgences. Due to these circumstances, Martin Luther spoke up and sought to bring the church back to God’s intended purpose, to spread the Gospel message to the world. 

God used an imperfect person to bring change to the church. Those that seek to change the world must understand that they are imperfect and not worthy of praise, but rather deflect all of that praise to the Almighty God. The church, however, often looks to its leaders and seeks their elevation rather than focusing on the message. Thus, on this Reformation Sunday, we need to focus on God’s desire to constantly re-form us into His image and carry out the mission of the Gospel in our community and the world.

Saul is an example of an imperfect person, carrying out the mission of God. After Ananias had been with Saul, with sight restored, Saul was released to do the work of God in the world. Sharing the Gospel, proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior, and doing ministry work in Damascus caused Saul to develop some enemies. The people that were content with the status quo, those that said this is the way we have always done things, and those that were uncomfortable with Saul’s new message fought to destroy Saul and protect the status quo. This story invites us to look at Acts and see how Saul first interacts with the church.

Acts 9:23-31

23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,[a] but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

The examples of Luther, Saul, and countless others remind the church that we need people in our midst willing to challenge the status quo and fight for reforms within the body. Often these reforms start within our own lives. What sin is still unresolved? The reformer’s perspective begins by recognizing the need to be transformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit, and with that renewal comes a desire to change the world. This desire recognizes that God holds the ultimate authority over us and not any organization or group found on Earth. 

When we grant the ultimate authority over our lives to God, we relinquish all other pretenses through which we speak and instead ask the Holy Spirit to speak through us and for us. The Holy Spirit will always speak the truth and demand the same of each of God’s disciples. This orientation puts the reformer in a situation where they must immediately and wholly confront anything that runs contrary to the Message of the Cross and God’s love for the world.

God established the church to carry out the Almighty’s mission on Earth, to bring all of the created order back to God. The reformer’s voice calls the church to heed the call and get our hearts right with God. The reformer’s problems result from tribalism and looking at the world through only one particular lens.

Martin Luther never sought to break away from the Catholic Church but saw something that did not align with scripture and discussed it. This challenge made Rome nervous and resulted in his excommunication. When speaking to the Jews about Jesus, Saul challenged the notion that the Christ had yet to come, but instead of it resulting in a discussion, the Jews plotted to kill him. Challenges and reforms don’t often come easy, and they usually result in a great deal of animosity from the leaders and status quo.

However, our allegiance must lie with God and not with political or even religious leaders. This temptation plagues the church in America. Quickly the church aligns itself with charismatic leaders and politicians, and regardless of substance, many quickly fall prey to the trap. Instead of speaking the truth of God boldly to power, they usurp God’s mission in the path toward human ambition, which is why we need reformers in our midst.

The reformer can come from anyone led by the Holy Spirit, even those that once were enemies of the church. Saul was an enemy, and through the transformation of God, Saul became an evangelist and spoke the truth at his peril. We cannot fear this type of person in our midst, but instead, we must be willing to stand in Barnabas’ shoes in this passage as he vouched for Saul and provided testimony to Saul’s transformation. This testimony paved the way for the reformation of the church from just for Jews toward reaching out toward the Gentiles as well. 

The church must keep its eyes open and its ears listening, as the Holy Spirit can speak through anyone at any time. This way, the church will be open to the necessary reforms. Thus the church operates as a reformed and always reforming congregation.

Saint Patrick as a Model for Modern Evangelism

Many of us have long thought of St. Patrick’s Day as a day to wear green and eat corned beef and cabbage. However, we should examine what our friend Patrick did and how we can use it as a beautiful example of how we can bring God’s grace to a world that is often devoid of hope. Today, the supposed anniversary of his death should serve to remind Christians everywhere that our God is powerful and can use us no matter where we come from or what stratus of life from which we come. 

Although recognized as Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick was not Irish but came to Ireland as a slave when he was only a teen. He was captive for about six years and worked primarily as a shepherd. During his captivity, Patrick, buoyed by his faith in Christ, found comfort in the promises that God would never leave him or forsake him in his circumstances. During captivity, God also gave Patrick a sense of call, similar to the sense of call God puts on our hearts.

After returning to Britain, escaping his captors, God called Patrick into ordination as a Priest. After becoming a Priest, he petitioned to go back to Ireland to bring God’s Gospel message to Ireland’s Celtic people. Instead of casting aside the people’s traditions and denouncing their pagan roots, Patrick sought to share the Gospel as it is working in their lives already. Through his actions, and practices he translated the Gospel into a language that they would understand. In much the same way, Paul was able to explain the Gospel to those at the Areopagus.

Today, we must follow the Saints’ example and share the Gospel with people, not in judgment, but with grace, just as Christ came to us with a Spirit of Love. We must seek to understand the culture. Learn the language, speak with humility, and bring hope, justice, peace, and love. Speak truth to power, but you must first speak the culture’s language to be heard and understood. Saint Patrick understood and embodied this and integrated notably Irish items into the worship of God. 

It is not the job of evangelism to wash over and eradicate culture. Instead, through our understanding of culture, we translate the Gospel into the language of culture. Instead of appropriating and colonizing, we see where God is already at work and join into God’s Kingdom work right where we live and play.

Look At God’s Hands and Worship

No matter what we find ourselves afflicted by, God reminds us that we must respond with worship. Even during war, persecution, plagues, and separation, God reminds us that we are not forgotten and belong to the Almighty and called us to worship him with all of our heart. Worship is engrained into our very core, and that circumstance tries to cover up that calling upon our hearts by distracting us with any number of problems in our lives. 

The danger we face is the same danger that faced the people of Israel and Judah. When we focus upon the affliction, we tend toward thinking that God has abandoned us or is absent from us, but that is contrary to the truth. God has written our names upon His hands. Jesus reminded the apostles to look upon him and the sacrifice Jesus made. God calls the people to look upon God’s hands and remember that the work of salvation is complete; therefore, we must look at God’s hands and worship, casting aside any afflictions, as they are not worthy of our focus.

Isaiah 49:13-18 (NIV)

13Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

14But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”

15“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

16See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

17Your children hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from you.18Lift up your eyes and look around; all your children gather and come to you. As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “you will wear them all as ornaments; you will put them on, like a bride.

In God Alone: Everything Else Is An Imitation

None of us belong, and all of us belong. We all have done wrong, treated each other improperly, and allowed sinful thoughts to affect our actions and lives. However, we have all been called to the foot of the cross, welcomed by the Almighty, to salvation. Our previous shortcomings, our current sins, nor our future problems do not withhold the grace found at the cross. Before we proceed with anything involving the church, we must affirm that our faith and salvation comes from no other place than the Almighty God, which did not consider sending Christ Jesus to Earth an act beneath the Creator. Therefore, because Christ pulls us out of sin, we cannot think that any of us is too perfect or too far gone for God’s salvation.

The church can never become a gatekeeper for salvation but must embody the sacrificial love that God has for followers of Christ. We must let go of our notions about who belongs and who doesn’t belong because we must all recognize that we are all lawbreakers and deserve death, but because of God’s mercy, we are saved by grace. The church gathers rule breakers and fugitives. For God calls us all to put down all of our idols and names and come before the cross, laying EVERYTHING down before Christ. Any idea that we carry any other identity other than a child of the Almighty God is foolish and idolatrous.

Isaiah 45:20-25 (NIV)

20“Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations. Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save.

21Declare what is to be, present it— let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the Lord ? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.

22“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.

23By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.

24They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’ ” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.

25But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the Lord and will make their boast in him.

God Is Our Guide: Respond With Faith Over Fear

Fear often grasps ahold of our hearts, especially in uncertainty. However, God has established that our trust should be completely given over to Him at all times. The enticement of fear that calls out to us in the midst of any disorder or chaos is paralyzing and leads us toward destruction. The antidote to inaction and fear is faith in God. We must firmly place our eyes upon God, even when the floodwaters rise or when the flames look like they will consume us. God does not allow the world to consume us, but rather he will go to the greatest lengths to save us. He even sent Jesus, His only Son, to guide us into faith and away from fear. Jesus went to the cross to defeat death and bring hope, peace, and grace to us. Therefore, we must place our faith in Christ to carry us out of our current troubles.

ISAIAH 43:1-7

But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

No, It Isn’t.

I have been approached by more than a few asking about the vaccine and the mark of the beast. I want to just say, “No, it isn’t.” Part of me thinks it is a fear tactic, and another ploy by many Christians to undermine the medical community. However, we must address these matters with sincerity and a desire to understand and adequately discern the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. We must guard against the mindless chatter and indulging of things meant to divide us from one another. God knows his children, and we should put on the clothing that shows the fruits of the Spirit.

Some may think that I am granting too much credence to the conspiracy theories, and I may be doing just that, but I feel compelled to give at least my thoughts on the matter.

In the second chapter of 2 Timothy, it states:

14Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and correctly handles the word of truth. 16Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. 19Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”  

How do you feel about vaccines in general? This vaccine is no different than any other vaccine in many respects. 

We should be careful when making some broad proclamations about this situation. Many conspiracy theorists will exacerbate our fears and point to the imagery contained within John’s Revelation. The Revelation of John is apocalyptic literature. We need to look at the reason for this type of literature and what we can understand about what God is instructing us through this scripture. John called pointed out the mark of the beast as something that people did to proclaim allegiance to the world in opposition to our devotion to Christ.

The mark of the beast has been claimed about many things throughout the history of the world. In the last several decades, it has been attributed to identification (driver’s licenses and such), credit cards, cell phones, or anything broadly used in society. In each of these interpretations, they interpreted the mark of the beast as something that you need to interact with commerce in society, and without it, you cannot engage in trade. However, none of these things are asking us to pledge our allegiance to human institutions; they are used to keep order in society. None of them ask you to renounce your devotion to Christ to receive them; therefore, they do not pass the mark of the beast test.

Similarly, many things have been said about this vaccine, many of which are untrue. Two of the vaccines that have been approved are mRNA vaccines; therefore, people have stated that they change your DNA, which is patently false, and a 101 level of biology would help understand how messenger RNA works. They give the instructions to the body, which help promote an immune response without ever having the SARS-Cov-2 virus in our bodies. The development of such a vaccine is quite a marvel about how God creates humans to understand and figure this out and help destroy the virus’s effects on our society, which is a reason to give thanks to God and not for fear. 

Another aspect of the anti-vaccine is the worry of a tracking microchip. While they do have microchips as small as 3 nanometers, it would simply be impractical to place a chip in anything like this. Further, since many of the vaccines are being transported in vials that contain multiple doses, it would require the ability to ensure that there was a chip in each dose. This is an absurd assertion, especially since many people carry a device with a camera and a microphone that tracks our location and internet history. There is absolutely no reason for any need for a tracking microchip.

The vaccine has undergone extensive testing that has was verified through peer review and the FDA. These are of course human institutions and are thus fallible, so ultimately it would require you to prayerfully consider if you trust those institutions.

With all of the reasons above, I have zero qualms about taking the vaccine, and will proudly recommend that any person that is healthy and not allergic to the vaccine ingredients to get the vaccine, as no one is asking you to renounce your faith to take it. Further, my faith instructs me God has created and guided the people that have developed this vaccine. Lastly, God has called us to care for others, and my willingness to take the vaccine protects the people I come across from contracting this disease that has killed many people throughout the world, and that God calls us to love one another and that the best way we can love one another at this time is to protect each other from a deadly illness.

In short, the vaccine is not the mark of the beast, and if you can take it I would recommend it, and I will take it as soon as I can.

Our Praise Needs To Be New, and Our Loyalty Needs To Be Undivided

Isaiah 42:10-17

God’s entrance into the world is a reason for rejoicing and proclaiming His wondrous deeds. God will triumph, and we must give Him the praise and honor, and all things of this world will pass away, but God and His Kingdom are eternal; therefore, we must keep ourselves from putting anything above God in our hearts and minds.

New Year, New Praise

Just as we talked about New Years’ and New Resolutions last week, the Epiphany of the Lord reminds us that our praise and devotion must be made new daily, even in the cycle of life. Often, we allow our praises and prayer to become routine and rote. However, we must remember that the God we serve is worthy of our prayers, and just as we have new experiences and new reasons for prayer and praise, we must incorporate that into our worship life and not hold anything back. The purpose of worship and praise is to honor God and not only check items off the to-do list. Therefore worship must be an expression of our utmost devotion, and we must have undivided loyalty to God. Isaiah warns Judah of the results of divided loyalty and that the people must always serve God far above and beyond any other objects or items clamoring for our devotion.

Isaiah 42:10-17

10 Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them. 11 Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices; let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops. 12 Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim his praise in the islands. 13 The Lord will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout, he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies. 14 “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. 15 I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools. 16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. 17 But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame.

Bring Praise Everywhere We Go

Just as God goes everywhere with us, we must bring our praises for God everywhere. These cannot merely be the same prayers that we have said repeatedly, but rather these praises must be authentic, bringing our experiences, thoughts, and feelings to God in worship. Many things are pulling us to veer our gaze away from what the Almighty is doing in our hearts. Still, the faith we have in God, the praise we bring to God must be new and continually being renewed in the face of the hurts and fears and in the presence of all the things that grab our attention and pull us away from God.

As we look at the world’s events, temptation leads us to react out of an abundance of hurt and pain, but it depends on us to remain focused upon God. We must rededicate our hearts to worship and praise of God and a renewed spirit of prayer that lead us to where God would have our hearts, our minds, and our focus. If we trust in God and praise God new, then we understand that God wants our hearts even in our pain. We cannot condone the ways of this world that depend on hurting and violent acts, but instead, we must ask God to leads us in teaching the world to love people, give hope to all people, and be the peacemakers that Jesus calls blessed.

God Conquers All

We do not need to focus on being the traditional warrior because God is the warrior. God calls us to serve, and our Service to God must be our paramount focus. Service is antithetical to a call to pick up arms and is preferably a call to place our faith in God. We must firmly believe that God can conquer anything in this world or outside of this world. Trust in God renews our faith, and we must continuously act toward renewing our faith in God daily. When we live with a renewed confidence that God conquers all of His enemies, then we can focus more fervently on how God wants us to act and behave in our world. If we live our lives in such a way that speaks anything other than serving an all-conquering God, then we must re-devote our hearts to God.

However, we should sit back and ignore what is going on, but instead, it is an opportunity for Christians to stand up for God’s truth in the world. That truth calls the church to bring God’s love in all we say and do, to embody God’s hope and share it with others, and to ensure all people are made whole, and that we strive after peace. Otherwise, we follow the world into destructive practices that God will ultimately conquer and destroy.

Be Led By God and Not Idols

If we listen and pray and read scripture with a mind toward renewal, God promises to lead us, even if we are blind. This type of renewal is like you are reading scripture for the first time. Many people look upon the Word of God and have the audacity to think that they don’t have anything more to learn from a particular passage. In reality, our arrogance and previous readings blind us to God’s light. We must look to God when we read any scripture and ask God to show us and lead us to the truth, and if we are faithful, God will lead us, bringing light where our previous knowledge may have left us in the dark.

Anything can become an idol. Previous teachers, pastors, church leaders, political figures, sports figures, celebrities, kings and queens, ideologies, and countries all become idols and threaten to pull us away from God. None from the previous list will be able to save you. Many of the people at the time of Christ looked for their salvation in things of the world. They looked to politicians, to warriors seeking to throw out Rome, to kings with false lineage, teachers, and even the church for salvation, but God brought salvation in an unorthodox way. Jesus came, and people called him by many of the names shown above. However, God brought Christ to lead the people through sacrificial love and through the Holy Spirit’s power that is far above the power of this world.

Devotion to anything or anybody other than God is idolatry, and we must be careful in all that we say and do to give our allegiance to God and God alone. Our lead must come from God and not from man. Only then can our praise and our faith be made new.

The Promise Fulfilled, A Hope Realized, and Love Expressed

A Reflection on Luke 2:1-20

Advent is the beginning of the calendar, and every year, although different, is a cycle that does not end, and the wreath before us is a circle with no beginning and no end. Just as the calendar comes around every year, there are changes throughout the year, and there are differences around the wreath, but God is the same, and God is present with us at all times. As we turn to the wreath this Christmas Eve, we turn our gaze upon the light brought into the world through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Hope

Several weeks ago, we began with a reflection upon focusing our hearts, our minds, and our bodies for the coming of the King. With our hearts and minds, we recall the prophets speaking about the coming Messiah, which would liberate and free His people, the incarnate Holy God that would usher in His Kingdom, and a new age for God’s people. The prophet Isaiah instructs us through his prophecy, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned. For to us, a child is born, to us, a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:2,6) With this perspective, we see that God has embodied hope through the sending of His Son.

Preparation

In response to the hope, we prepare for the coming of Jesus. In our hearts, we work for the cause of justice and peace in our world, preparing for Christ’s return, when he will establish justice and PEACE for all the world. God sent His messengers to invite us to prepare for Christ’s coming by working for God’s Peace for everyone. The prophet Micah was one of those that foretold of the coming PEACE that Jesus Christ would bring, “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.” (Micah 5:4) We are invited to join with the prophets of the past and participate in preparation for the future coming of the Lord.

Joy

With our eager anticipation of God’s advent, we embrace the JOY we have been given and respond with worship. Even in our hard times, we rest in the knowledge that Christ came to the Earth, bringing Joy to all humankind. “And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on, all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Luke 1:46-49). Today we follow Mary’s lead and allow our hearts to be filled with JOY and wonder as we contemplate what our loving God has done for us.

Love

We love God, but it is because God first loved us. We have been called to follow the example of God’s LOVE, demonstrated through the self-sacrificial example of Jesus Christ embodying God’s merciful grace. May we remember that God calls us to show one another LOVE through kind acts, compassionate giving, and abundant grace this season. This LOVE puts others above self and reflects the LOVE of God shown upon this world. John reminds us, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11). Today, we seek to demonstrate God’s love for the world, and we look to the story of how Jesus was born.

The Birth of Jesus as told in Luke

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Jesus Has Come to Earth

Advent has led up to this moment, this time and place. A place dictated by the government, fulfilling the prophecy, and carried out by two obedient servants. Bethlehem, a town meaning the house of bread, would become the place where God would bring his nourishing grace into the world. However, this place was not a place where the world would recognize as a seat of honor, but rather the accommodations were lowly and underwhelming.

However, Jesus was given the care of a mother, wrapped in cloths, swaddled, given security, even in the conditions where they had only a modest place to stay. They used what they had, a manger, to help give Jesus a safe place to sleep. Mary and Joseph’s love for Jesus was apparent even if they did not have the room they required on that night more than 2000 years ago.

This was not a night just for this small family; it was a night for the world. The angels announced to the world that the Savior of all humanity was born in Bethlehem. This night is a night for singing, for rejoicing, for proclaiming the embodied love of God for all humanity. The shepherds came to witness what the angels had declared, and their hearts were changed because God’s love for humanity was expressed clearly with the birth of His Son.

Tonight, we come, gathering around an Advent Wreath, lighting candles, and singing God’s praise. May our hearts and lives be changed because Jesus Christ, Savior of humanity, and Son of God, has fulfilled the promise of God, as a realization of the Hope we have waited for and an expression of the loving grace of God.