December 31, 2017 – “Hidden”

Today’s text is from John 1:19-34.

We are each the center of our own universes. Family, friends, work, play, anxieties, joys, busyness, daily schedules that keep us focused and on task. There may be over seven billion fellow human beings on earth, but often the easiest perspective to see is our own.

Often it’s easy to forget that the person passing on the road or the street, the family we see in the grocery store, the obituary that we read in the newspaper, the wars that we hear about on the news – that each of them are impacting someone else’s universe.

Each of us, our own universe, often passing by every day without gazing to see the star that shines in the middle. This is why it’s helpful to have voices crying out in the wilderness – a voice that says, “Hey, look over here, there’s something you should see.”

Because the presence of God isn’t found only under the trumpet blast and chorus of angels, but also in the humble and lowly.

One week ago we celebrated the birth of our Savior – a savior born in the midst of a family with no place to stay alongside farm animals and strangers. A savior whose birth heralded something new in the world. A birth that signaled that things would be changing – that the status quo would be no more. A birth that was announced to such a degree that you’d think it impossible to not notice their presence.

But apparently that’s been the case. John stands before the people and tells them they should be on the lookout – on the lookout for someone who baptizes with fire and someone whose sandals John isn’t worth to untie.

The baby born in the manger last week has grown up quickly – already three decades along – and apparently God incarnate, God born as both human and divine, God with us, Emmanuel – is as normal as one would expect a carpenter’s son to be.

John tells the people that in their midst – not halfway across the world, not another country, not another city – but right here, right now – is the presence of God. Not as wind, or flame, or earthquake, but as one of us.

And the people have missed it. They haven’t recognized Jesus. They’ve certainly heard God’s voice, seen God’s presence, but in all these years no one has actually recognized it. The people have been the star of their own stories – and somewhere in the background Jesus passed by.

Perhaps as the carpenter who sold you a piece of furniture. Perhaps as the neighbor kid down the street who kept to himself. Perhaps as the person you almost ran into as you went to see family or friends. Perhaps as a person you remember seeing, but just can’t quite place exactly what color shirt they were wearing or who exactly they were with.

“The leaders asked John, ‘What are you doing here if you’re not the Messiah or a prophet? What are you doing out here?’ John replied, ‘There’s someone in your midst that is the Messiah, I’m only here to remind you to look, taste, hear, feel.’”

That’s what the writer of John will attempt to do as we embark on this three-month journey through its pages: Allow all our senses to bear witness to the all-powerful, all-graceful, all-merciful, all-forgiving, all-loving presence of Jesus Christ.

Because in your midst – not halfway across the world, or located in another country, or hidden in another state – but right here, right now, is the presence of Jesus Christ. Not locked away in this building, not found only in bread and wine, but made manifest in plants, animals, water, wind, fire, stillness, night sky, falling snow, the ordinary that surrounds us, and of course, made manifest through you.

Jesus Christ, born so long ago in the city of David, was born for you and is made present to the world through you. Every inch, every corner of creation sings forth this presence of God. For Jesus Christ is never far – God incarnate, God born as one of us – is here this day and always.


December 17, 2017 – “Life”

Today’s text is from Isaiah 55:1-13.

In this season of Advent, we’ve been waiting. We’ve been preparing. We’ve been hopefully expecting the awaited arrival of our Lord and Savior. And for many of us here and across the world, we wait with heavy hearts.

We wait for a better tomorrow, a new day, a fresh start. We wait for the day when we’re reunited with our loved ones. We wait for something better. This is what the people of Israel were waiting for too. Something better.

We’ve been reading about their exiled lives in the city of Babylon. Far from home, long removed from their traditions – generations have now passed since their exile began. And now they’re receiving an invitation.

They’re hearing this word from God to come home. They’re hearing about buying drink and food without money. This weary and tired people, long lost in exile, hear this surprising word that food and water will be provided free of charge. That this food and drink, this word from God, will provide new life.

It’s quite the invitation to receive. On face value it sounds beyond incredible. Free food? Free water? Listen and live? Exile is over? It almost sounds too good to be true. In this day and age it certainly sounds like a fool’s dream.

We know that everything costs something. Food had to be labored over, cooked, produced. Water had to be pumped from the depths of the earth. You just can’t get these things for free. But in supermarkets they certainly seem easy to come by. Like the Israelites, it’s easy to become satisfied with things that do need feed us spiritually or emotionally.

But then God comes along and offers us an invitation. It’s an invitation that feels foreign and strange. An invitation that invites us to see the miracles of God all around us. An invitation that invites us to let go. An invitation that encourages us to seek life not in earthly treasurers, but heavenly ones.

It’s an invitation that seems so simple yet is so difficult to live out. To see the ordinary, the mundane, the daily miracles that surround us. To see the rain and the snow – this water that we did not pay for – to see this precipitation water the plants of the earth and provide drink for the animals that roam its surface.

To see that this snow and rain cannot help but water the earth. To see that without thought or hesitation every plant and animal receives its life-giving presence – free of charge. So, too, is it with God’s word.

In this season of Advent you are invited to witness God’s presence throughout all of creation. You’re invited to hear God’s voice on the wind, see God’s face in a stranger, feel God’s presence in the rain and snow that falls from the heavens.

You are invited to experience life through the richness and goodness of God. You are invited to be witness to Emmanuel – God with us. Because every day we wait and prepare for the arrival of Christ – and at the same time have the opportunity to witness this presence around us.

A presence, a gift, a life-sustaining and creating promise from the God of all creation. A gift that can never be taken away, lost, stolen, or destroyed. For no matter what exiles may come our way, we can know that God will deliver us. Sometimes today, tomorrow – other times, like the Israelites, we’re called to wait.

But as we wait we do so with the promise from our Lord and Savior by our side: The promise that when God forgives you, you are forgiven. That you are a child of God. That this day and always salvation is yours.

December 10, 2017 – “Hope”

Today’s text is from Ezekiel 37:1-14.

We’re getting to that time of the year where the air makes you catch your breath. Those frosty mornings when you step outside and the icy air burns your nose and your throat.

I’m not a fan of these days. Why we live in a place where it hurts to breathe is beyond me. And yet with each breath, with each passing moment that cold air rushes into our warm body, we’re reminded of God’s very presence.

See, for the majority of our lives breathing is something we don’t even think about. The oldest parts of our brain handle this basic yet crucial aspect of our lives.

So, it’s on the rare occasions where we’re reminded of our breathing, where we can actually feel the cold rush of air burning down our throats.

Because God is in the air. God is on the wind. God’s breath of life is on your lips. And with God’s Spirit, God’s breath, God’s life giving presence by our side, we have nothing to fear.

But that’s easier said than done. The people of Israel have grown weary in exile. They’ve lost their sense of purpose, identity, they’ve given up hope.

This hope piece is crucial. Hope of returning to Jerusalem. Hope of resuming their old lives again. Hope that God would rescue them now.

Hope is a beautiful thing. It motivates us. Encourages us. Lifts us up. Reminds us that tomorrow will arrive.

But then there are moments that catch our breath. Moments that would take the hope from us. Moments that can turn into days and weeks and months and years and lifetimes.

Moments that catch our breath and make us swallow in the icy air of desolation and fear.

This is the field of bones Ezekiel finds himself in. Bones that represent a people in exile that have lost all hope. Bones that represent a people who have been cast out, thrown into the fiery furnaces, and told this moment, this icy air, is going to last a lifetime.

But as Ezekiel stands there he realizes he’s not alone. The wind, the breath, the spirit of God fills the valley. And it fills Ezekiel, and the people, with hope.

Because we worship a God of reversals. We worship a God of surprises. We worship a God that turns everything we know upside down.

We worship a God that takes death and makes life. A God that is visibly, audibly, and physically present in every breath you take.

Now this wind, this breath, this spirit of God doesn’t promise to instantly reverse our problems. For the people of Israel there was no getting out of exile so easily.

The same often holds true in our lives. That sometimes no matter how much we pray the disease remains. Sometimes our family won’t get back together. Sometimes a job falls through. Sometimes we can’t afford to pay our bills and buy food. Sometimes it feels as if we too, like the Israelites, are stranded.

Stranded with no chance of getting out. The icy air has caught itself in our throats and these moments that can turn into lifetimes burn with each passing breath.

But know this: God is in the wind, God’s very breath gives you life. For it’s in these moments of pain, moments of exile, moments of fiery furnace, that we can have hope.

For you have the breath of God. You have the Spirit of God by your side. You are created in God’s image. And this spirit of God will give you new life.

For it is in these moments, the moments where we catch our breath, that we realize God was with us the whole time.

This is the promise we wait for in Advent: The promise of God with us. The promise that God’s spirit will never leave our side.

Sometimes that breath will be easy to take, yet oftentimes it’ll be as difficult as a cold and snowy day.

But you can have hope because our God turns death into life. Our God takes a valley of desolation and turns it into a mark of creation.

It’s not always easy. This vision shown to Ezekiel of dead bodies coming to life was not going to immediately change the fortunes of the Israelites. Exile couldn’t end that easily.

Just like how oftentimes pain and suffering remains in our lives. Not because we deserve it, not because God has ordained it, but perhaps because there is a season and a time for everything.

As we wander through this Advent season with snow on the ground and cold in the air we do so with a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

We hope, we wait, we pray. We hope for the promise coming of the Savior, and we wait and pray with the very breath and spirit of God by our side. For you are never alone: God is with you.