Christmas Reflection: Jesus, King of the Gentiles

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So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.

Ephesians 2:19

Jesus came to call all people, regardless of culture or background, to become children of God. Make it a point today to reach out, with respect and love, to someone whose background or opinions differ from yours.

Going Deeper

Read Psalms 2:7-8, Acts 13:32-33, and Ephesians 2:17-22.

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When Jesus arrived on earth, the Jewish people were watching for a savior. They were eager for someone to rescue them from the oppressive Roman rule. They never imagined that the messiah would come to save not only the Jewish people, but the people of all nations, including the Romans. Some of the first visitors to the Holy Family after Jesus’ birth were the three magi, Gentiles from a country far from Bethlehem. This was one of the first clues that Jesus’ ministry and reach were going to be much wider than people expected.

There are many divisions in our world, just like there were in the time of Jesus. There are “proud deplorables” and “nasty women” who still stand “with her.” One group of people holds “Black lives matter” signs, while another holds “Blue lives matter” signs. And those who state “All lives matter” are accused of opposing one or the other of the two groups.

No matter how hard we try to be accepting and inclusive, it can be difficult to imagine that the mercy of God is available to everyone.

When you see on the news the story of a man who beat his wife or a woman who shook her baby, do you hope they “get what they deserve,” or do you hope they experience the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus?

Picture Jesus, approaching a member of ISIS who had beheaded innocent people, and saying “I’m going to have dinner at your house today.”

Imagine running into Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein while you are walking the golden streets of heaven.

You’ve been working in God’s fields since dawn. How will you feel, at the end of the day, when the Boston Marathon bomber, who joined the work crew just before sunset, gets the same pay as you?

 

None of us can be good enough to earn the mercy of God. God extends his mercy as a free gift to all people. In fact, Jesus himself said “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matt 9:13c).

Who is most difficult for you to love and forgive? Perhaps it’s one of the groups or people mentioned above. Or maybe it’s a family member you just can’t get along with, or a coworker who constantly rubs you the wrong way. Pray for that person.  Pray that they would come to know God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the strength to forgive. Try to imagine you and that person “being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (from Eph 2:22).

Christmas Reflection: Jesus is the Key of David

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I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder;

what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open.

Isaiah 22:22

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Think about the times in your life when God has opened or closed a door for you unexpectedly.

Going Deeper

Read Matthew 16:15-19, and Revelation 3:7-8.

The image of Jesus as the Key of David brings to mind the old saying “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” Have you seen doors closed in your life—paths you planned to take that suddenly became unavailable to you?

There’s a quote from the Lee Roy Parnell song “I’m Holding my Own” that I see as a rephrasing of the old saying. It goes like this: “There’s two sides to every door.” I like that version. When a door closes, instead of looking for an open window or another way out, I need to stop and look around. Maybe I’m already right where I’m supposed to be.

Jesus, thank you for your guidance in my life. Thank you for opening and closing all of the right doors. I’m confident that you know what’s best for me.

doors-closed

Jesus is Emmanuel

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

What signs have you seen that show you God is here with us, not just watching from a distance?

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Going Deeper

Read Matthew 1:18-25.

The name Emmanuel means God with us. Truly, when Jesus came to earth, we were aware that God was right there with us in a way we hadn’t experienced since the Garden of Eden. Even though Jesus no longer walks among us, we know that God is still with us. During the Last Supper, Jesus promised that, after his death, the Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father, in Jesus’ name, to remain with us (John 14:26).

Imagine that Jesus was walking the earth today. He holds a rally in your town. You attend because, well, it’s Jesus Christ. When will you ever get that close to someone who is that famous? As Jesus enters the stadium, he spots you and walks right up to you. “I’m coming to your house for supper today,” he says with a warm smile.

Sitting together at the dinner table, what would you say to Jesus? What questions would you ask him? If he decided to stay for a few days, how would that change your routine? What would you do differently in your work? Your home life? Your free time?

God is that close to us. All the time. How does that knowledge change how you live your life?

How will you respond to Jesus’ arrival?

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So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about the child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Luke 2:16-19

During your Advent preparations and Christmas celebrations, have you learned something new about Jesus or understood something about the incarnation differently? Share that new insight with one other person.

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Going Deeper

Read Luke 2:8-20.

In this passage, we see two different responses to Jesus’ birth. The shepherds immediately told everyone about the message they received from the angel and the child they found wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, just as the angel had said. Even when they returned to their day jobs, they did so “glorifying and praising God.” How can you imitate the shepherds? Can you tell a friend or family member how you have experienced Christ in your life? Maybe you can share the story on social media. After you’ve had an experience of God’s presence, do you go back to business as usual? How can you glorify and praise God in and through your daily routine?

In contrast, Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” In order to hear and recognize God’s voice and action in our lives, we have to take time to be quiet and reflect. Can you spare fifteen minutes? Turn off the radio and the television. Find a quiet spot with few distractions. Think back over the events of the past two days—both in your life and in the lives of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Then spend five minutes resting in the presence of God. You don’t have to do or say anything. Just be with God.

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Merry Christmas! Is there room in the inn?

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While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:6-7

Is there room for Christ in your Christmas celebration? In your life? In your heart?

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Going Deeper

Read Luke 2:1-7.

The Bethlehem innkeeper often gets a bad rap for turning away the young couple and the unborn Savior of the world. How often have we turned God away or given him our second-best, just like the innkeeper?

  • Have I packed my schedule so full that I don’t have time to pray or to notice God working in my life?
  • Do I avoid making eye contact with the person holding the “will work for food” sign?
  • Am I happy to give God an hour on Sunday morning, but reluctant to invite him into my home or workplace?
  • Am I holding onto resentment, refusing to forgive someone in my life?

There are many things that can keep us from making room for Jesus in our hearts. As you reflect on what might be blocking Christ from permeating every part of your life, listen to “While You Were Sleeping.”

Choose one thing you will do to welcome Jesus more fully into your life.

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Advent Reflection: Where will you encounter Christ this Christmas?

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I will stand at my guard post and station myself upon the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what answer he will give to my complaint.

Habakkuk 2:1

As you finish your preparations and begin your celebration of Christmas, watch for the unique ways that Christ enters into your holiday activities. Look for opportunities to be the face of Christ to other people.

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Going Deeper

Read Habbakuk 1:1-5.

If you’ve watched the evening news lately, you can relate to Habbakuk’s distress (verses 2-4). Just like Habbakuk, we see violence, iniquity, destruction, strife, and discord all around us. Do you trust that, as the Lord promised Habbakuk, “a work is being done in your days that you would not believe, were it told”? God is at work in our world, even when all signs seem to indicate otherwise. Won’t it be exciting when we get to heaven and learn about all of the ways God’s been working behind the scenes?

God wants to be part of your Christmas preparation and celebration. You don’t need a perfectly baked ham, an immaculately clean house, or exactly the right gift to get God to show up at your party. He’ll be there. Will you be watching for him, or will you be so busy and distracted that you miss him?

Take a three-minute break from the busy-ness of the day, and pray along with the song “Open My Eyes”.

Who do you say that I am?

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Today’s Gospel reading, from Luke chapter 9, begins:

Once when Jesus was praying by himself, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ ” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”                                      Luke 9:18-20

Reflecting on this passage, I wondered how Jesus’ questions would be answered today.

Who do the crowds say that I am?

According to Barna research (https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/714-what-do-americans-believe-about-jesus-5-popular-beliefs#.V2Da8rsrLIU):

  • 92% of Americans believe Jesus was a real person who actually lived.
  • 56% of Americans believe Jesus is God, while 26% say he was just a religious leader, on par with the Buddha or Mohammed.
  • 46% of Americans believe Jesus remained sinless throughout his life, while 52% believe Jesus committed sins, just like other people.

On-the-street interviews asking the question “Who is Jesus?” garner a variety of answers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OB2cvvHtqsA, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=johNLhZ5y48, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hm308hopZhU, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YztvjePz0uk):

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Who do the Bible and the Church say that I am?

Who does the Bible say I am

But who do you say that I am?

This is perhaps the most important question. I challenge you to think and pray about it, and write down your answer to this question. I would love it if you would share your answer with me.

Here is my answer, at this time in my life:

Who do you say that I am Word Cloud