The great invitation (A Christmas Eve reflection)

Christmas is a time of giving and receiving, and we are used to looking at the miraculous story of Christ’s birth as God’s greatest gift to us. Which it is – God has given us everything we need in Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins.

I want to encourage you this night to think of the Christ-event, the birth of the babe who would be Messiah, as an invitation.

Jesus spent his early ministry inviting fishermen and tax collectors and other marginal types to “follow me!” Then he spent long months on the road with them, inviting them to glimpse and then embody a new kind of life – a life that was ultimately rooted not in their culture and economy, not in their ideas of themselves and the world, but in the Kingdom of God that is here, right now…if you have eyes to see it.

Christ didn’t just issue this invitation to historical figures once-upon-a-time. Christmas reminds us that we are each invited to follow Jesus into a changed life, and that God has blessed us with all we need to receive that gift.

It’s an invitation to be our true selves, our child-of-God selves. An invitation to step out of the rat-race of measuring ourselves by the world’s yardsticks, and looking at ourselves as God sees us – as beloved children. The world tells us that what matters is our job, the school we go to, our net worth, our GPA, our usefulness to our work and our family. God calls us to see ourselves and our neighbors – even our enemies – as equally worthy children of God. As flawed, stubborn sinners, true – but also as beloved, redeemed saints.

Jesus’ invitation is also to come as we are. Like the kings who traveled from the east, taking months to follow a star. And the shepherds, who left their flocks alone and hurried to Bethlehem. It’s tempting for us to think, “Well, that’s OK for them, but I can’t drop my nets and leave the boats. I have responsibilities.” But God doesn’t ask us to be Balthazar, or Peter, or Paul. God asks us to be us, and to use our strengths and weaknesses and the situations we are in to be ambassadors of God’s good news for all people. We don’t have to wait until we have enough time or money, until we’re out of school or retire. God can use who we are and what we have, right now!

Most importantly, Christmas reminds us that the invitation is to join God in healing, reconciling and blessing all people. Christ became human – the Word became flesh – so that God’s people could see what it looks like to live the Kingdom of God here and now. Jesus went about healing those who were sick in body, mind or spirit. He fed the hungry and made the unclean clean. He forgave sins rather than holding them against people. He also challenged hypocrisy and spoke truth to power. Through the Spirit he is still doing this today – and he invites us to be part of this work that is changing the world.

This Christmas, love has come to you just as it has came to that stable in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.

This Christmas, give yourself the gift of drawing near to the God who is near to you and learn who you truly are, and who you belong to.

This Christmas, give yourself the gift of knowing that God has already given you everything you need to join God’s mission.

This Christmas, give the world the gift of sharing your love like Jesus did, pouring out blessing as the Bethlehem star once poured out light on all the known world.



What are you waiting for?

As we close the season of Advent, a time of waiting, the first few readings for this week ask, "What are you waiting for?"

Monday we saw the religious leaders demanding Jesus' credentials. When they are asked what they think about John's works, they reveal their true intention: They are looking for one with human authority and power. They do not pray to seek God's guidance, nor do they discern what might be happening. Instead they play politics; it's more important for them not to be seen as wrong, and not to risk the anger of the crowd, than to say what they think.

Today's story continues the encounter. In the parable one son shames the father by refusing him, the other shames him by not actually honoring his wishes. In the culture the father would have been angry at both, but more angry at the one who didn't outright defy him publicly (but didn't do the work)? Or at the one who made him look bad but then changed his priorities and served?  Jesus allows that those who don't look so good but believe John (and Jesus) have an advantage over those who say the right things but then act differently. Yet they are waiting one who will confirm the status quo.

Wednesday's reading picks up on how Jesus defies expectations, even John's!  Apparently John must have been looking for something more than Jesus' preaching and miracles.  Jesus points out that his authority comes from fulfilling God's promises (made through the prophets) -- to heal, to bring good news to the poor.

There is a lot about Jesus' life and ministry that gave others offence -- even (especially) good, religious folks.

Does Jesus' style and message offend you?

If our lives of faith and service do not offend anyone, can we be doing all that we are asked?

Which Jesus are you waiting for?  The babe sleeping in the manger?  The healer and teacher?  The revolutionary, overturning religious power like the moneychanger's tables?  The reconciler who invites you into a renewed relationship with God?


Am I in the game?

Mt. 11:16-19

Let's face it -- we like to pick and choose our obedience.

Sometimes we hear the call to live simply, or Jesus call to drop our nets and follow, or John's call to "Repent!", and we say -- that's too hard!

Other times we Jesus' counsel to receive God's love and care, like the birds and flowers, and we say -- that's too hard!

What is easy to miss here is that, by focusing on what we "can't" do, we are like the children in Christ's parable.  By whining at each other that no one wants to play "our" game, we end up not playing at all!

These people of Jesus' time clung to the status quo because John's call was too much, his behavior out of the box.  At the same time they used Jesus' breaking of the norms -- eating with the unacceptable, for example -- to brand him as out of the box.  They neutralized both Jesus' and John's challenge in order to stay safely where they were already comfortable.

I can play this game, too. But heeding God's wisdom might by figuring out what God's call means in my life, and then going out to "play," just as I am, with what I have, rather than figuring out why I can't be one of the spiritual greats.

Are there ways that you dismiss the challenge in Jesus' words and miss the dance that he invites you into?

Photo: Virginia Woodard/Christian Children's Fund


What's on your shoulders?

Matthew 11:28-30

This is one of my favorite promises from Jesus, especially the way Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message. "Get away with me and you'll recover your life. ... Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." This sounds like a relationship that I want to be in!

The traditional reading says that those of us who are "carrying heavy burdens" -- our challenges, our worries, our wants, our striving -- can exchange that for Jesus' "yoke." If we know that at all we know it as linking two farm animals to get more work out of them. I've generally thought of this as something Jesus puts on me.

Peterson's version suggests another reading: That Jesus asks me to join him in the same yoke. Christ invites us to join him in his "easy" task of preaching good news and bringing healing. Scholars say that "easy" here does not mean "less strenuous" but rather "well suited to the task" and "producing beneficial results." Jesus says his yoke is easy not because it allows us to goof off but engages us in holy work here and now.

In other words, he suggests his yoke is the one that best fits our human condition, with our failings, our desire to do good and make a difference, and all the "humanity" that we experience.

What yoke is on your shoulders? Christ's yoke? Or ones of individualism, taking it easy, consumerism? Another?

How does it fit?

What would a yoke that fit you well be like?


Do you believe?

Matthew 9:27-31

Jesus gets to the heart of the matter with his question, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ The blind man is asked the central question of faith, the same one we are asked.

Do I believe that God is able to provide for me and my family, to create wholeness in my life? Or do I sometimes think the God might provide a baseline, but if I want more money, more food, a better job, I need to work that out on my own?

This text challenges me to think about where my trust really is, and about how to align my “wants” with what God provides.


Right in front of your eyes

Matthew 15:29-37

Have you ever missed seeing what God was doing right in front of you?

Jesus has just healed people of serious afflictions -- he has made the blind see, the lame walk, the mute speak.  The crowd is mesmerized, and they eagerly praise God for what they see God doing in their midst.

Could One who performed such miraculous healings have difficulty finding food for the crowd?  Certainly as Jesus healed the paraplegic, the maimed, and the blind because they had enough faith to come to him, so could he turn his compassion for them into bread.

But the disciples don't see it.  Totally practical (and seemingly blind to what Jesus can do), they look around at the size of the crowd and ask, Where are we going to get enough bread for all these people?  So Jesus gives them a lesson in kingdom economics:  With God there is always enough.  What we bring is enough.
Are there areas of your life, like having enough food, or enough money, or something else, where you are blinded to God's desire to give you "enough"?